Cedar Tavern crowd ‘like a family’


Cedar_Tavern_1By Pat Stinson
Sun contributor

Summer officially arrives at the Cedar Tavern when campers pack the place on Wednesday nights.

“Leelanau Pines (a campground/resort) is a big supporter of us,” says the tavern’s owner, Ellen Stachnik. “We’ve gotten to know the campers really well. Wednesday is “Ribs,” and they all come in for them.”

The barbequed ribs are also Stachnik’s favorite tavern meal. Will she divulge the recipe?

She shakes her head, explaining that she was asked once before to share a recipe publicly, and she declined.

“It’s a secret; I can’t tell you,” she says politely, with a smile and twinkling eyes.

The rest of the year, Cedar Tavern’s Wednesday crowd consists of “regulars,” many who visit every day and “a lot” who make the drive from Traverse City. Stachnik says she has gotten to know them in the 36 years her family has owned the tavern. The customers obviously know each other well, too.

“They walk in and it’s like, ‘Hey, how ya doin’?”

It was her father, Ron Alpers, (who passed away in 2008), and her mother, Joan, who bought the place from Frank Schill in 1977. (Schill and a partner bought the tavern in 1957, according to an archived notice in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.)

“Mom loves to tell the story,” Stachnik explains. “She said my dad, he owned an oil company then, came home one night and told her she didn’t have to worry about the oil business anymore because, ‘I’m buying a bar.’”

“You’re what?” her mother replied.

Stachnik, who was 12 at the time, says she has no clue how her father hit on the idea of owning a bar, or a bar in Cedar. The family lived in Traverse City, though her father had grown up on a centennial farm (now a bed and breakfast) on Alpers Road, near Leland. She remembers visiting the farm every weekend during her childhood and hanging out with her cousins in the cherry orchards.

Her father, as the new Cedar Tavern owner, made many improvements over the years. She recalls him removing the long mirror behind the bar, painting the interior brickwork and replacing an old corner kitchen (serving “burgers and frozen pizza”) with a full kitchen that serves sandwiches, burgers, homemade pizza, and today’s full appetizer menu and dinner specials. Thick, shiny slabs of knotty pine replaced the old tiled Formica bar, with woodworking done by brothers Daryl and Chris Plamondon. At the same time, tall cocktail tables were added, for standing and mingling.

Once she was of age, Stachnik waited tables and tended bar in the tavern for her father.

“He taught me all I needed to know,” she says, adding that she spent 12 years working for a travel agency in Traverse City, where she lives with her husband, Roger, and their 15-year-old son, Kyle. She quit the travel business when she became pregnant and returned to work at the tavern after her son was born.

“I’ve been here ever since,” she says. “Fifteen years.”

In her tenure as owner, she has created outdoor seating for 20 (the deck she always wanted, built by Mike Hall, who “did a great job”) and added some menu items, such as this year’s homemade cherry chicken salad and Plevalean (cherry enhanced) burgers. The taps still flow with Bud Lite, Miller Lite and Labatt, but Bell’s Oberon is a favorite summer draft and Milkshake Stout, from Rochester Mills Beer Company, is winter’s special brew.

The tavern’s cook and manager for the last 10 years, Jen Plamondon, has contributed to the success of the establishment, as have other long-time, year-’round employees, such as Tracii Kunisch, a bartender for almost 10 years; bartenders/waitstaff Chris Thompson (7+ years) and Anna Oakley (3 years); cooks Mark Lichty and Kevin Zimmerman (4 years); and Shelly Bailey, hired last fall.

When asked what she thinks has contributed to employee longevity and the success of the tavern, Stachnik pauses a moment to gather her thoughts.

“The customers,” she replies. “And we take pride in it (the tavern) because our food business has really skyrocketed. Jen is always making sure things are right. We have a lot of pride in the kitchen. People tell me the food is better than a lot of places around here.”

Dinner specials include Wings on Sunday, Monday Burgers, Dollar Tacos on Tuesday, BBQ Ribs on Wednesday, Pizza on Thursday, Cod or Perch on Friday and Ribeye Steak on Saturday. Happy Hour lasts from 4 to 8 p.m. and lunch specials have included French Dip and other sandwiches.

Former open mic nights — hosted by Pat Niemisto and Chris Skellenger, and later by the Horndogs and various members of the band — also contributed to the tavern’s popularity, as did a few years of live concerts arranged by Seamus Shinners, of Connemara Concerts. Karaoke, a Friday night staple for 18 years, still plays a role.

“After all this time, you’d think it might die down, but it hasn’t,” she says of the sing-along phenomenon.

You can find Keno and card games, pool and a digital music “jukebox” here too, of course. But Stachnik’s tavern offers something else: community pride. She sponsors two nights of Cedar softball, Tuesday’s Co-Ed games and Thursday’s Men’s games. Then there’s the tavern’s own team, known this year as the Cedar Cow Tippers, the name a brainstorm of employee Kunisch, and the logo an upside-down cow.

Sense of community runs deep here, instilled by Alpers, a generous spirit.

“My dad was a giver,” Stachnik says. “He would help people out whenever they needed it — he was an all-around good guy. He always ran a golf tournament. After he passed, I turned it into a memorial (for him).”

Now in its sixth year as a memorial, the tournament continues to be popular among the area’s golfers.

“Last year we had 24 foursomes,” she says, proudly. “This year it’s at Manitou Passage, on Sept. 14.”

And what of the tavern’s future?

“I try to keep it the way my dad did things, not “old school,” but keep it a place for people to come and enjoy themselves, relax, talk to friends, socialize and (enjoy) good food.”

Cedar Tavern is located on Kasson Street, just south of the blinking light at County Road 616 and County Road 651, in Cedar. 231-228-7445. CedarTavern.net or find them on Facebook, Facebook/pages/cedar-tavern.