By F. Josephine Arrowood
For many residents and visitors to the Glen Lake area, summer’s relaxed pace and delicious warmth wouldn’t be complete without a cool, smooth malted, cone or sundae from Laker Shakes. The venerable Burdickville destination, on the east side of Big Glen Lake, has been owned and operated by Richard Hargreaves since 1987. This August, the white-haired, slender proprietor, familiar to two generations of ice cream lovers, served up his final cone, before handing his well-worn scoop over to Laker Shakes’ new owners, sisters Ellen and Mary O’Neill.
Photo by Pat Stinson
Rich grew up on the north side of Detroit; as an adult, he worked as a business administrator, living with his wife Pam and their daughters in Royal Oak and Rochester. In 1976, he heard of a job opening at Sara Lee in Traverse City, and came to the area for an interview.
“I was staying with some friends, the Adams family, in Empire. The Glen Lake Dairy Bar at the Narrows [of Glen Lake] was for sale. I didn’t get the Sara Lee job, but by July of ’76, we were the new owners of the Dairy Bar.” The business featured a full-service kitchen, a motel, even a couple of gas pumps. Since business was slower in the winter months, he supplemented his income as a substitute bus driver at Glen Lake Community Schools, near Burdickville. In the fall of 1977, he became a permanent driver, and eventually rose to the position of head driver.
By 1984, Rich and Pam had divorced, and in 1987, he sold the Dairy Bar and bought the building at the corner of Dunn’s Farm Road and County Road 616, which became Laker Shakes.
“It was the Glen Lake Workshop,” he explains. “Dorothy Lanham was a big lover of Petoskey stones. She had workshops on how to find them, polish them.” Dorothy Lanham was the sister-in-law of another Dorothy — “Dottie” Lanham, whose family history was recently published to favorable reviews by Tom Van Zoeren (the book is for sale at Laker Shakes; look for excerpts of the book in future issues of the Glen Arbor Sun).
Laker Shakes’ fame as a happening milkshake venue was gradual. “We did ice creams, milk shakes, summer and picnic items,” says Rich. “The cheaper shakes were on sale once a week, then evolved into a feature. The business ended up being built around that.”
In the autumn of 2001, Glen Lake Schools’ head bus driver decided to retire at the end of the year, but life threw him an unexpected curveball. “I had let the supervisor know in November that I planned to retire. Then in December, my doctor found cancer on [one off my] tonsils. I’d never even heard of that kind.” He had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which proved successful in treating the disease.
Meanwhile, Rich continued to tend his loyal customers at Laker Shakes, faithfully scooping ice cream and mixing shakes in all seasons. His most memorable customer? “My neighbors and the people from the school — they would be my celebrities, because they’re the ones who’ve kept me going all these years. The next generation, kids whose parents came here. I have a book that people have signed over the years.”
Although he’s now officially retired from his second career, Rich doesn’t plan to sit around and reminisce about the good old days. He’s getting ready to build a new house in Williamsburg, near the home of one of his daughters. More important, “I’m already being a grampa, and having fun doing that.”
Meanwhile, back at Laker Shakes, Mary and Ellen O’Neill are busy scrubbing, dusting, moving display stands, refining the menu, serving up the cones and shakes that customers have come to love over the past 21 years, and fielding questions about Rich.
“So many people have asked about him, and said nice things about him. He’s been really, really great to us with the sale, and showing us how everything worked,” Mary says.
Ellen concurs. “He wanted to make sure we knew how to run it. He seemed pleased that two relative ‘locals’ have taken on” the business.
The Detroit area natives are no strangers to the hard work that comes with food service, having cut their teeth (along with their three siblings) in the kitchen of a fine French restaurant — which just happens to sit across the road from Laker Shakes. Their mother had bought the Woodcock in 1979, and changed its name to LaBecasse, which became known throughout the region for its cuisine. Although the O’Neills eventually sold the bistro, they own a family cottage just down the road, and a brother lives in Cedar.
Asked why they’ve taken on the challenges of running an ice cream shop in rural northern Michigan, the two women laugh. “We have a strong entrepreneurial streak,” Ellen says. “I had a desire to come back to the area, and get out of corporate America, slowly.” The Michigan State University graduate works as a marketer for high-tech firms, currently with EMC in New York City. Her role in this new enterprise will be largely as the silent partner, while Mary, who has extensive experience in marketing, advertising and grant writing, will oversee Laker Shakes’ daily operations.
“We’re upgrading some of our products,” Ellen explains, offering a customer a freshly crafted waffle cone. Soft evening light floods the interior through big corner windows, illuminating a café table and chairs to perch on while enjoying dessert. The prices of cones have risen, comparable to most other ice cream operations in the area, although the milkshakes are still $1.50 for now.
Other new additions include homemade hot fudge sauce, biscotti and packages of chocolate covered cherries, displayed in bowls created by Brisling Pottery of Suttons Bay. Outside the door, two shiny red scooters are available for hourly, daily or weekly rental, through a cooperative effort with Scooter Bob’s of Empire.
Ellen continues, “We’re experimenting with some things. Most people come in for ice cream. This is a way to get people accustomed to the different look of the store. We want to be open year-round. This morning, while waiting for an ice cream delivery, I noticed a ton of people commuting past.” Possibilities include coffee, Internet access, maybe even baked goods.
Mary says, “We’re interested in the local, slow-food movement. One idea is fresh produce in the summer. I ask people what they’d like to see in here.”
Ellen relates, “Up here, there’s such a great community of people. We don’t really have a spot,” for casual gathering in Burdickville.”
“We’ve only been here a week, and everyone has been fantastic,” Mary enthuses. “They’ve been walking in the door with open arms: ‘Welcome to Burdickville!’“ The two new business owners warmly return the greeting, as they take up the scoop to carry on the great Laker Shakes tradition — and create delicious new ones in friendly, downtown Burdickville.