Northern Michigan Restaurants: When Jim and Marty Juilleret closed their downtown Harbor Springs' restaurant and soda fountain, Juilleret's, in 2007, the lights of the 112-year-old Northern Michigan eatery went dark. It’s no secret the Harbor Springs' community has been waiting, hoping, wishing for the “open” sign shine below the signature red and white awning once again.

And if Harbor Springs developer Ross Mossburg has his way, that might happen as early as summer 2012.

The Cottage Company of Harbor Springs just announced it has entered into a contract to purchase Juilleret’s Restaurant, and owner Rob Mossburg said he is thrilled about the opportunity to preserve a piece of history, while at the same time encouraging the growing energy of revitalizing and rejuvenating downtown.

“As the oldest continuously operated family-owned restaurant in Michigan, Juilleret’s is a northern Michigan landmark, which served generations of locals and visitors alike in a soda fountain, family-friendly atmosphere since 1895,” Mossburg said in a prepared statement.

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While Mossburg said he hopes to close during the first quarter of 2012, he isn’t waiting to put a plan in place for what the restaurant will be when it re-opens its doors. True to the community theme he said Juilleret’s represents, the developer is asking people to dream big possibilities– and offer suggestions– for the space.

“It will definitely be a restaurant,” he confirmed in an interview Tuesday, adding if it is a “similar concept” to Juilleret’s, there will be a better chance of it opening by summer 2012.

“My intent wasn’t to be in the restaurant business. I’m interested in preserving the structure, and my ultimate goal is to find an operator who will come in and run it. We are quite interested in hearing what the community might like to see in terms of a new restaurant, and I would ask anyone with an idea to give me a call,” Mossburg said.

Mossburg said any and all creative ideas are welcome, and noted he hopes the final concept takes “advantage of the authentic nature of the building and the space which exists for outside dining.”

“We can’t create in one year the same feeling of something that was part of this community’s history for 112 years, so we shouldn’t consider altering it without a very thorough process,” he said.

For the Juillerets, who held onto the building after closing down their family restaurant, keeping the tradition of a community gathering place centered around food was a critical part of letting it go.

“We’re pleased that someone will be operating that location as a restaurant,” Jim and Marty Juilleret said during a phone interview Tuesday morning.

The Cottage Company has made substantial investments in Harbor Springs, and Mossburg constantly promotes the vision of smart growth and vibrant, walkable communities. Still, the Cottage Company owner was blunt about potential concerns or comparisons with Juilleret’s and his unfinished Hotel Janelle project on the corner of Main, Gardner and Bay Streets.

“There is a substantial difference between a new development and a project that already exists and is ready for operation,” he said. “Financing for new hotels remains virtually non-existent. Juilleret’s is different. The structure is already there. It has a proven market. We can and will make it happen.”

Mossburg added he hopes to be partnered with an operator by the time he closes on the building, and would like to see a concept in place by then as well. If the timeline for a summer 2012 opening does not end up being realistic, there is a strong possibility of something opening there temporarily, simply to breathe life back into the space.

“I’m so excited by this, in part because it’s just one more arrow in the quiver. When added to the current and potential projects happening around town, and to all the energy and dedication we’re seeing geared toward revitalization, this is one more piece of evidence pointing us forward. Even better, we have an opportunity to really respect and honor our community’s heritage while at the same time supporting the future strength of the town.”

Have an idea or suggestion for a restaurant in the Juilleret’s building? Contact Mossburg at the Cottage Company 231.526.2537.

This story ran in the December 28 edition of the Harbor Light News:  

Photo(s) by Harbor Light Newspaper