Miracle in a Diner

At 10 a.m. Harlan Peterson, chef-owner of the legendary Tapawingo restaurant, also in Ellsworth but serving haute cuisine, and his friend Jerry Sessions come in for breakfast. They order the same thing, the omelet, which comes one way: thin, French-style and filled with ham and cheese. The cinnamon rolls—decadently buttery and faintly yeasty, caramelized on the edges—are almost sold out. The food is simple and delicious.

Now high school kids stream in the front door in one rush. Ellsworth has an open campus, and this diner gives them an alternative to packing a lunch or heading to The Gold Nugget bar for lunch. The students’ lunch is a pre fixe $3, and like the senior lunch, it’s always a surprise. Says senior Kysha Keehn, “We kind of have a network to find out—ask someone who has cell phone reception, ‘know what’s uptown today?’” And that’s uptown Ellsworth versus downtown? “We really don’t have anything else,” laughs the senior class president, Ashton Fisher. “It’s just we have to walk up the hill to get here.” It’s Homecoming week—since Ellsworth doesn’t have a football team, they wait until basketball season—and he’s dressed in a shirt and tie today. He’s up for Homecoming king at the home game against Mancelona tomorrow.

“The starting point guard is running against me, so we’ll see,” he says about his chances of being crowned. “But he’s really nice. He’s my sister’s boyfriend, actually.” With 60 kids in the high school, the Ellsworth student body is as close-knit as it gets, and pretty much everyone participates in spirit week. Tuesday was “cross-dress” day, come to find out. “I came in a miniskirt that broke school rules,” says Fisher. Terry Wooten, a poet who lives in the area, came to present to Fisher’s class Tuesday, and afterward the English teacher treated the whole class to lunch uptown at The Front Porch. “You have to realize that this skirt was a size zero,” Ashton says. But when a senior gentleman came out of the bathroom and saw Ashton, he didn’t even bat an eyelash. Everyone is welcome here.

Savanna Karhoff is treating her dad to a burger. Business partners Chuck Fox and David Rasmussen are here for lunch for the fourth time this week. In fact, Chuck is back for the second time today—he and his son share a cinnamon roll every morning before school. Dave’s mom is Jan, the kitchen manager. He has a piece of her banana cream pie.

The senior citizen lunch is at noon, but they start arriving at 11:30 to get a good seat. Bob Vollmer, the car salesman from across the street who’s been in business for 40 years in town, is always the waiter for senior lunch. They pray the Lord’s Prayer in unison at high noon, and Bob starts working it, running back and forth to the kitchen to get trays of hot turkey dinner, which Jan and Gloria insist be served piping hot. “I’ve never got so many hugs in my life as I do on Thursdays,” Bob says.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    I have to tell you how much I loved the article Miracle in a Diner. There are so many little pieces making the whole, speaking volumes about this community.

    We’ve lived in Maryland for 20 years, though I’m originally from Illinois, where my parents still live. After 9/11 we decided we all needed to see each other more frequently and Michigan became our meeting place. Our local friends think we’re nuts for traveling away from the beach and the mountains, and truth be told, I can’t fully articulate to them the complexity of the draw, but it has a lot to do with the beauty of the lakes and the woods, and the spirit of amazing people as described in articles such as this.

    Thank you for a reminder of what matters. Dawn Edgerton, Gaithersburg, MD, Traverse Subscriber