by MARGARET PHILBRICK
In the 1960s, my grandma opened a “hot dog stand,” which today is the Summer Kitchen restaurant on Highway 42 in Ephraim.
My parents came to Door County on their honeymoon in 1961, and they stayed in some pretty swanky spots, like Gordon Lodge and the White Gull Inn. When they returned home, they raved about the gorgeous landscape and the magical beauty they had experienced.
In less than a year, my grandma and grandpa – Marie and John Lehwald – were buying land and building their retirement project, originally called the Red Barn Restaurant because it stood right across the street from the big red barns – today, the Island Lavender Company.
This little hot dog stand served hamburgers, shakes and hot dogs through the window where you placed your order, but over the years, it grew into a full-service restaurant with cottages. Grandma ran the kitchen and cottages, and Grandpa loved tending the driving range, especially riding his big mower to pick up golf balls.
I celebrated my first birthday there, and our family gathered for holidays, especially Thanksgiving. There was an abandoned red barn way out back where my cousins and I made our own “pies” by smashing red berries (probably poisonous) into rusty found objects. Grandma let us sneak into the kitchen and dip our fingers into the always-heated hot-fudge pot. Clara Appel baked the pies, and back in the day, Grandma always managed to find the reliable help she needed.
After several years, my grandparents sold the business and built their dream house in Sister Bay, right next to St. Rosalia’s cemetery. Our memorable holiday gatherings moved over to Maple Lane, and we savored walking down the road and bowling at the Sister Bay Bowl when we were old enough to go into town without adults.
Grandma Lehwald lived to a wise, old age of 97. She painted with oils, kept a full candy drawer for her grandkids and great-grandkids, attended art classes at The Clearing, and became proficient in embroidery, cross-stitch and tons of card games. She also cheated on her strokes when we played “peewee golf” with her at The Red Putter.
When my father sold his house last year, I found one of Grandma’s unfinished oil paintings in his attic. The painting featured the Red Barn hot dog stand, roughed out on the canvas. My own mother was a proficient oil painter, and I had saved all of her paints when she died. So I bubble-wrapped the canvas and shipped it up to Baileys Harbor, where I spent last winter and spring finishing Grandma’s work.
The painting needed life. The colors were muted, and she didn’t include any people in her composition. Long before, I had found a postcard of her Red Barn restaurant in an antique store, so I used that to convey authenticity in the building design. Her restaurant patio was covered in a pink, corrugated roof that made all of our food look pink, no matter what we ordered. As a four-year-old girl, this was a wonder work of beauty.
I added my cousins playing hide-and-seek and Grandma walking to the kitchen with her buckets of apples for Clara’s pies. I couldn’t resist painting their Lincoln Continental in the gravel parking lot and the little wooden train at the campground next door, which we snuck over to play on when Grandma wasn’t watching.
I adored and respected my grandparents. They worked hard all their lives, and how they loved us. They taught us to adore and respect the land of Door County. I’m so thankful that today their work continues at the Summer Kitchen restaurant in the capable hands of the Jauregui brothers, who still serve homemade pies.
Stop by and walk into 60-plus years of serving home-cooked food to residents and guests who are in need of a bowl of soup, or a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, on a crisp, fall day.
You can follow Margaret Philbrick’s musings at margaretphilbrick.com or @seasonedpoetess on Instagram.