Curl and Broomstack: new sport breathes life into Maple City’s Old Schoolhouse

Photo by Raquel Jackson

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

A new sport has come to sports-loving Leelanau County this spring, and this one could increase nostalgia for winter, even as summer’s warmth returns to the land. It could also help revive a once vibrant space in quiet Maple City.

The Leelanau Curling Club opened on May 22 in a custom-made facility next to the restaurant Broomstack Kitchen & Taphouse, which opened in February in the town’s old red schoolhouse. The curling facility is the brainchild of entrepreneur and hotelier David Gersenson, who along with his wife Theresa also owns the Sylvan Inn in Glen Arbor, the M22 Inns in Glen Arbor and Suttons Bay, and the Maple Lane Resort on Little Glen Lake. The Gersensons moved to Leelanau in 2012 from Nederland, Colo. A Philadelphia native, Gersenson founded and previously owned Door to Door Organics.

The Gersensons are also silent partners, together with husband and wife Joey and Jen Reutter, behind Broomstack. The restaurant serves locally-sourced, grass-fed burgers and Michigan beers on draft, and also appeals to curlers.

“Broomstacking is what you do after you curl,” said Gersenson. “Traditionally, the winning team buys the opposing team a beverage. The lead (player) will ask the other lead (player), ‘what would you like to drink?’ You do this to encourage being social.”

“Curling is competitive, but when it’s all said and done, you stack your broom in the corner, you sit down and engage. It brings people together.”

Gersenson became instantly hooked on curling after joining the Traverse City Curling Club in 2016. But he soon tired of playing at public arenas and sharing the ice with hockey players and figure skaters. He explained that skates and Zambonis make the ice slightly uneven—not a huge problem for hockey, but an elevation or crevice of a mere millimeter can cause the curling “stone” to take a wrong turn.

Two months into his curling career, Gersenson played on “dedicated ice” in Lewiston. He decided that day he needed his own curling club. So he got one.

In January 2018 the Gersensons purchased the old schoolhouse property just west of downtown Maple City together with the Reutters, who had begun working as innkeepers at the Sylvan Inn in August 2017. Joey and Jen had recently moved here from San Diego with their two young sons; Jen grew up in Michigan, and her grandparents live on Good Harbor Bay. Their concept was to build a curling rink and revitalize the restaurant and bar, which had limped from one owner to the next in recent years.

The two-room Maple City schoolhouse was built in the 1920s and included a library, an office for the teachers, and a locker room downstairs, explained Joey, who learned the history from patrons. The schoolhouse thrived during the lumber boom of the ’20s and ’30s and served local students until the ’60s. “The big school”—Glen Lake Community Schools—was built in 1958, and it took a decade to consolidate all the one-room schoolhouses in the district. Joey recently hosted a guest at Broomstack who attended grade school there and then transferred to “the big school” at Glen Lake.

The building sat vacant after the school closed until it was acquired with the intention of hosting a ceramics studio. The plan failed. Local land mogul Glen Noonan acquired it, and his family ran the Old Schoolhouse Café, before the restaurant changed hands and became the Maple Leaf Café. That ran its course and became Benchwarmers sports bar in 2006. Then Kerbys, until it shut its doors last April 1, once the Gersensons and the Reutters closed on the property and began renovations.

“Hopefully, finally, we’re here to stay,” said Jen.

Broomstack held a soft opening for close friends on Friday, Feb. 1, but didn’t advertise the new restaurant. The team wanted time to train their staff and finetune the system. But a funny thing happened. Fifteen snowmobilers knocked on the door. Another 10 came after that. Jen explained that Broomstack and the Leelanau Curling Club are at the northern trailhead of snowmobile Trail # 3 through the County. The previous week had seen heavy snowfall, and the restaurant’s opening weekend happened to fall on the first big weekend of the year for snowmobilers. Friday was busy; Saturday was twice as busy, and activity escalated from there. “We were off to the races,” said Jen. “Word got out fast.”

Patrons came for the burgers and beer, of course, but also to spend time in a space that was significant for their families.

“Everyone knows it as the schoolhouse,” said Joey. “Most people in the area have some connection to it in one form or another—whether they or their parents went to school here. It’s been a fixture in the community. We wanted to honor the schoolhouse vibe.”

The schoolhouse motif remains. The 20 (mostly Michigan) beers on tap are listed on blackboards mounted on the wall. A bookcase, old-fashioned school desks placed in the belfry, a picture of “Opa” smoking his pipe, other yard sale-acquired memorabilia, and vintage hardwood floors tirelessly restored by Joey all encourage the visitor to wax nostalgic. You can still look down and see where the desks attached to the floor.

“The old schoolhouse is a big part of the inspiration behind the restaurant,” said Jen. “Even coming in here when it was Kerby’s, we could see the potential to create a space here that cultivated the vintage schoolhouse vibe.”

Broomstack’s interior is light and inviting. Long gone is the dive-bar atmosphere.

“The most fun reaction is when someone comes in and comments on how bright it is,” said Joey. “They say, ‘I’m so glad you put the windows in, it really brightens the place up.’ But we didn’t put windows in. We just took the boards down!”

Running a restaurant has long been Joey’s dream job—even as he and Jen ran a couple small businesses in San Diego, working with aquarium design installation and aquaponics. They also dabbled in kombucha, and Jen was a personal chef for a stint.

“When I was a little kid, I had friends whose parents had restaurants. It seemed really neat,” he said. “I was always drawn to the service lifestyle.”

The menu at Broomstack is intentionally simple and includes pizza, salads and a soup of the day. But the restaurant’s nucleus is its burgers. The menu features seven different types of burgers made with fresh meat from a local farmer in Buckley: the broomstack burger, the cowboy burger, the grilled mushroom and onion burger, the Spartan burger, the Wolverine burger (can’t pick favorites), the peanut butter and bacon burger (weird), and the vegetarian Impossible Burger (California-inspired).

“I’ve been to many restaurants where there are 4-5 pages of items, and none of them really stand out,” said Joey. “As I learned more about the restaurant business, I realized if you have 5 pages of items on your menu, you need to have an inventory for that. There’s a good chance that most of it won’t be fresh.”

If you belly up to the bar at Broomstack, there’s a good chance the stranger sitting next to you will have just come from, or is headed to, the Leelanau Curling Club next door. Since curling is a sport that anyone can try, your new bar mate might just be a star in the making.

“Curling is a sport that anybody can do,” said Gersenson. “Ninety percent of people who come here have never curled either. Whether you’re big or small, old or young, athletic or arthritic, you can curl. Wheelchair curling is an Olympic sport.”

“Curling is a way to meet people, socialize, be competitive or just have fun.”

Gersenson compared curling to baseball, in that each game has eight ends, similar to nine innings. Each team has four curlers, and each member throws two “stones”. Everyone takes turns “sweeping” and “throwing”. A curling rink has two side-by-side “sheets” each 150 feet long x 16 feet wide. A captain stands on the other side of the ice and calls the strategy, such as whether to throw a “takeout shot” or a “protection shot”. The goal is to get your stones closer to the center of the “house” than the other team—similar to horseshoes. Observers can watch the action from a viewing area in a 40 x 25-foot warm room, separated from the ice by a sheet of clear glass.

The Leelanau Curling Club charges $20 for approximately two hours of curling. One can sign up for various leagues. Gersenson hopes to launch a junior curling summer program later this month.

Above all, the partners hope to market curling as a year-round, and particularly a cold weather, winter wonderland destination for northern Michigan.

“When Jen and I decided we were coming to Michigan, everyone told us summer would be great,” said Joey Reutter. “It’s the wintertime where you’ll need to come up with activities. But our first winter here in Michigan, David invited me to go curling. I thought, ‘this is perfect. That’s a winter activity I can get behind.’ I loved it. I got hooked.”

Broomstack is located at 172 W. Burdickville Rd. just west of downtown Maple City. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and open until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Classes at the Leelanau Curling Club are available from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. For more information, visit