When John and Linda Sisson decided to sell the Leelanau Country Inn after 21 years, they thought their long nights were over.
But when they opened Sisson’s Main Street Specialties deli/bakery in Leland, those long nights turned into pre-dawn baking shifts.
“The goal was to slow down a little bit – but it hasn’t worked out that way,” said John Sisson. “Linda and I come in this time of year between 3am and 4am. In the summer we’re in at midnight. We close at 2pm.”
Though his siblings are all retired, John Sisson said he still enjoys the business.
“Linda and I have been married for 32 years,” he said. “We have worked side-byside for 30.”
When they operated the Leelanau Country Inn just north of Glen Arbor, it was all about fine dining. Now it’s about scones, muffins, cookies and fresh deli sandwiches.
In the summer, John says the small deli and bakery is typically packed full of visitors who grab a morning snack or a bite for lunch.
“We open at 5am for people going charter fishing or early golfers,” he said. “We are busy from then on.”
During the off-season, doors open at 7am. The business peaks again around lunchtime when the salads and sandwiches are ordered up by locals and visitors alike.
“In the summer we’re wall to wall,” he said lthough Sisson’s is located on the main street in the middle of downtown Leland, John says some long-time residents are still surprised to stumble upon them.
“Until we put the tables outside, we’d have people drive by who live just down the road who didn’t know we were here,” he said.
Some items are holdovers from the Sisson’s days at the Leelanau Country Inn. The house-made herbal bread for the sandwiches is from a recipe they developed there.
“We make it with a high-gluten flour, then roll it in a pepper and kosher salt mix,” he said. “We put a blessing of basil, oregano and garlic on it, then bake it. It pulls out so many flavors in the sandwiches.”
Cookies, scones, and rolls are made from scratch, as well as the deli sandwiches: roast beef, turkey, ham, tuna and egg salad.
They also sell their line of salad dressings and marinades, available at area retailers. They include raspberry or cherry maple vinaigrettes, Greek and French dressings, and the Main Street Marinade, a lemony vinaigrette originally developed for the swordfish served at the Inn.
The Sissons both say the most popular items really are the best.
“The cherry chicken salad,” said Linda, with her husband nodding in agreement.
Among the packaged items, Orange Toast and Cheese Wookies are the top sellers. Orange Toast is sweet, citrusy crisps baked with fresh orange zest and special butter.
The Cheese Wookies are savory minibiscuits that were originally served at the Inn alongside salads. Despite the name, John says they have nothing to do with Chewbacca, the Wookie from Star Wars.
“I named them before I ever heard about Star Wars,” said John. “The recipe is from my grandmother. Most of the recipes are family-generated.”
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The Sissons started the business the same way they prepare their food – from the ground up.
“We started the business from scratch,” John said. “We made pastries at the Inn. This is the same bread we made at the Inn.”
The Sissons run a lean operation. In the off-season, they have one other employee. During the summer season, their staff expands to 14.
The Sissons say their success is predicated on feedback from their customers.
“We try things and if they don’t hit the mark, then we pull them off,” said John.
One that did hit the mark was the introduction of breakfast paninis last year.
They’ve since become a huge part of their business, John said.
The Sissons also cater everything from cakes to appetizers, and salads to entrées. But they only provide the food – staff, service or linens are not included.
Sandwiches start at $3.99, salads from $5.25. The packages of Cheese Wookies are $5.59 and the Orange Toast is $5.99.
Current hours are 7am to 2pm, Tuesday through Saturday.
Sisson’s is located at 203 N. Main Street in Leland; call (231) 256-9201. Online visit sissonsmainstreet.net, or check out their Facebook page.