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Sparky‘s Diner

Al Parker - June 8th, 2009
Blast from the Past Sparky’s Diner
By Al Parker 6/8/009

If you like ‘50s music rumbling from an original 1962 juke box, big-finned cars covered with chrome and authentic diner food, there’s a TC eatery that would make Bill Haley shake, rattle and roll.
Sparky’s Diner, owned by food service veterans Paul Sparks (hence the name) and Brent Bartz, opened in May of 2008. Tucked into a South Airport Road strip mall, just east of Barlow, Sparky’s is a clean, non-smoking eatery.
“We offer basic diner food – burgers, fries and shakes,” says Bartz, an affable guy who takes a break from wiping down tables and greeting customers to talk about the place. “Since we opened last year we’ve built a good base (of customers.) We serve a lot of local customers and have doubled our business over the year.”
Born and raised in Traverse City, Bartz spent 35 years at Don’s Drive-In in East Bay before leaving to open his own place with co-worker Sparks, also a TC native, who has 15 years of eatery experience.

Sparky’s 1,600-square-foot interior seats about 50 and features a sparkling fresh red-and-white décor with formica-topped booths and tables. The walls are plastered with memorabilia, records, signs and photos from the ‘50s and ‘60s that deliver a blast from the past. For those who like to dine al fresco, there are a few tables out front.
Glance up from your meal and you’re likely to see John Wayne, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart or even Elvis peering down at you. It’s all part of the fun vibe that Sparky’s offers. “For our one-year anniversary in May, we had an Elvis impersonator here,” says Bartz. “He was outstanding and we all had a great time.”
Tucked in one alcove of Sparky’s is a 1962 Rockola Princess jukebox featuring several 45s from Bartz’s personal collection of some 7,000 records. Customers keep it busy cranking out tunes by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and, of course, Mr. Presley. “I’ve been collecting records for years and welcome anyone with 45s they’d like to get rid of to come in and talk to me about them,” says Bartz.
In another corner of Sparky’s is an authentic 1976 Gottlieb Royal Flush pinball machine that serves up three balls for only 25 cents.

Sparky’s may dish up basic diner food, but it’s top quality fare at reasonable prices. For example, there’s a quarter-pound (after grilling) burger for $3.99. For a full meal, go with a burger basket that comes with a heaping order of fries, coleslaw or pickle spear and a medium drink for $7.75.
Heartier eaters may want to try the half–pound burger for $6.19. The basket version is $9.25.
Not in the mood for a burger? Sparky’s also offers baskets of cod, shrimp, smelt, chicken and a steak dinner for $9.25. In addition to fries, other sides include pub fries, battered onion rings or mushrooms, cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce, slaw and a salad of lettuce, tomato and cheese. There’s always a soup of the day and a hearty bowl of chili available, too.
Wash down the meal with a Wild Bill’s Root Beer, handcrafted by Northwoods Soda in Williamsburg, and served in a frosty mug. Top off your meal with a thick milkshake, served ‘50s style. “We serve our shakes in glasses, along with the tin,” says Bartz. “Then we top it with whipped cream and a cherry. Not too many places do that.”
Until 11 a.m., Sparky’s dishes up breakfasts, including omelets ($4.99-$7.85), French toast ($3.99-$4.99), pancakes ($1.99) and a full array of egg dishes ($1.35-$6.99).
If you’re too busy to stop inside, there’s a drive-up window – call ahead for quick service.
“We have a real family place here, a little corner of our community” says Bartz. “It’s homey and wholesome and a friendly meeting place. We’re going for a family atmosphere with reasonable prices. We’re not here to get rich, we just want to make a living providing good food and fun for our customers.”

Sparky’s Diner, at 1462 South Airport Rd. in Traverse City, is open Monday-Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For takeout orders, call (231) 933-8005.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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