For years, Jeff and Cheryl Bennethum ran Jeffrey’s Northern Inn near Detroit. With its rustic décor and menu harking to the north woods, it was a hit.
Only thing is, it was far from the locale it emulated. And far from where their hearts dictated they eventually relocate.
“We always dreamed of being up here,” said Jeff Bennethum.
They made that a reality when they bought a second home at Michaywe, the golf and residential complex just outside Gaylord. They liked it so much it became difficult to drive back home.
Eventually Jeff and his son Josh would spend long weekends up north, and then head south to work the restaurant.
“We’d go down and do three doubles, then come back and spend four days in paradise,” said Jeff Bennethum.
Jeff Bennethum had spent his career in the golf and restaurant business, something that led to his eponymous restaurant in Ferndale.
He and his wife owned it for 15 years until selling to move north permanently in 1999.
His background didn’t go unnoticed by the folks at Michaywe, where he was asked to take on the role of general manager for the complex and long-shuttered restaurant. He refused – and was asked again.
“They kept asking me to take over,” he said with a laugh. “The restaurant had been closed for years.”
Finally after four times, he gave in, overseeing Michaywe until another opportunity arose.
In 2006 they purchased longtime landmark restaurant Schlang’s Bavarian Inn, renaming it Bennethum’s Northern Inn.
Jeff and his wife Cheryl are the co-owners of the restaurant. Josh, who grew up in his family’s restaurant, began working at the new endeavor as executive chef. He’s now an investor and also serves as the general manager, and his sisters Amy and Rebekah are also on staff.
Many of the servers and kitchen staff have worked there since the Bennethums purchased it, and the family atmosphere extends to the clientele as well.
“We say we’re not in the food business serving people,” Jeff Bennethum said. “We’re in the people business, serving food.”
The up-north vibe is evident in several regional favorites on the menu, such as perch, walleye and whitefish. The region’s and restaurant’s history are also honored with dishes such as Alpen Chicken Sautée, Classic Austrian Schnitzel, Rib Eye Steak and Kaesespaetzle (German-style macaroni and cheese).
Other specialties include spinach tenderloin fettuccini with mushrooms and onions, Creole shrimp fettuccini with fire-roasted peppers and crispy fried leeks, and Bourbon Street baby back ribs, available three different sizes.
In addition to entrées, that menu also includes starters like soup and salad, dessert, even specialty drinks.
Homemade favorites have stood the test of time.
“Josh developed a house bread that’s so popular,” said Jeff Bennethum. “It’s dripping with butter and Parmesan.”
Josh Bennethum in turn talks about the pasta and pizza.
“We make our own pizza dough, and we make all our pasta each day from scratch,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
Among the entrées, the beef and fish remain top selections.
“The steaks have had a great following since day one,” said Josh Bennethum. “And our fresh local fish is a signature dish.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
One of the most popular aspects of the restaurant has proven to be its theme dinners.
Each month Bennethum’s features a special selection of foods and drinks: Italian, Asian, different ethnicities and regions.
Some items from those themes become so popular they’re added to the regular menu. That’s how the Mongolian beef tenderloin joined the “Signature Classics” section.
For example, the New England theme includes expected items like clam chowder and seafood entées like scallops and cod, but also lobster ravioli, bibb salad with wild Maine blueberries, and for dessert, Boston cream pie.
Featured drinks include a wild blueberry cosmo and Samuel Adams Rebel IPA.
Beverages rise to the fore also in the restaurant’s monthly wine dinners.
“We do three or four courses paired with four or five wines,” said Josh Bennethum.
Those dinners point to one of the changes both father and son comment on: the increased popularity of wine.
“We do a lot of retail wine sales, especially with our wine dinners,” said Jeff Bennethum.
Appetizers are $10; salads start at $5; pizzas at $9 for personal and $14 for large. Sandwiches and “pub fare” start at $10; entrées start at $19; dishes on the theme menu vary in price.
Bennethum’s, located at 3917 Old US 27 S in Gaylord is open Mon.-Sat. from 4-10pm. For more call (989) 732-9288, go to bennethums. com, or visit its Facebook page.