By Al Parker 10/19/09
Tucked along East Michigan Avenue, just off Graylings main drag, is a classic 50s style diner that houses a 10,000-piece museum that pays homage to the worlds largest beverage company, Coca-Cola.
Dawson & Stevens Classic 50s Diner and Soda Fountain is home to the Bottle Cap Museum, Northern Michigans largest privately owned collection of all things Coke century-old bottles, carriers, trays, posters, playing cards, bottle caps, barrels, ads, baseball cards, coins, dolls - even an original Coca-Cola delivery truck that came across Lake Michigan from Minnesota.
Unfortunately, were only able to have about half of it on display at any one time, says Marianne McEvoy, the curator of the Bottle Cap Museum. We rotate items in and out of storage.
But the amazing Coke collection is not the only thing that draws visitors from as far away as Japan, Kenya, New Zealand and Russia. Under the direction of manager Laura Serum, Dawson & Stevens serves up some serious diner food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast is served from 8 to 11 a.m. and features eggs, pancakes and classic three-egg omelets all made to order.
The lunch bunch can choose from almost 20 different sandwiches, all named after pop songs and personalities from the 50s and 60s. Try a Soldier Boy with corned beef, swiss, kraut and 1,000-island dressing on lite rye ($6.99) or a James Dean classic third-pound of beef on a grilled bun with your choice of toppings with fries ($4.99-$5.99).
We have daily soup specials and all our soups are homemade, says Serum.
Vegetarians can choose from five different entrées, including the popular Johnnie Be Good, stacked avocado, lettuce, tomato, Monterey Jack and special sauce on veggie bread ($6.29).
Dinners are named after popular dances, such as The Stroll, fried butterfly shrimp ($9.99), The Sock Hop, beef and shrimp, ($13.99) and The Hustle, ham steak platter ($8.99). Each dinner entrée includes a side salad, dinner roll and choice of baked, mashed or French fried potato.
The authentic soda fountain is ringed by shiny chrome stools where guests enjoy hand dipped ice cream, shakes, malts, phosphates, old-fashioned sodas and 12 specialty sundaes.
The Good Golly Miss Molly is for the heftiest of appetites, but not for the faint of heart. It features one scoop of each gourmet ice cream, flooded by a dollop of each available topping and smothered in a mountain of whipped cream. At $36.99 its more than a meal in itself.
Between the impressive Coke collection and the classic diner cuisine, Dawson & Stevens has been drawing crowds, according to McEvoy. We have a large number of bus tours, senior citizen groups, birthday parties, and school classes that enjoy visiting our restaurant, she says. All we ask is that they call ahead for a reservation so we can best accommodate them.
The original business was founded by Earl Dawson in 1938 as a retail store that included a bustling soda fountain. An electrical fire destroyed the business in 1957, but it re-opened a year later under the direction of Devere Dawson and his wife Pauline, who ran the business for five decades before it was bought by Russell and Jane Stevens in 1994.
The Stevenses transformed it into more of a restaurant and ran it until 2004 before selling it to Bill Gannon, the founder and owner of Gannon Broadcasting and the Bears Den Pizzeria.
We ran it for a year, then closed for 18 months to make renovations, he recalls. We expanded the seating to 110 seats. The most important thing we wanted to do was make the upgrades in the building, but we didnt want to destroy the feeling of the original soda fountain atmosphere.
Gannon later purchased The Bottle Cap Museum, a sprawling 7,000 piece Coca-Cola collection from Bill Hicks who had operated the museum in Sparr for a decade. Over the years, Gannon has added another 3,000-plus items to the inventory.
Were one of the few museums with no admission fee, says McEvoy, who lives in Traverse City and commutes to Grayling a couple times a week to work on the Coke collection. Bill wants to keep it that way. He wants to make sure its accessible to the community.
Dawson & Stevens Classic 50s Diner
& Soda Fountain, at 231 East Michigan Ave. in Grayling is open Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information or takeout orders, call (989)348-2111 or go to