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Mayberry meet Mary Ellen‘s

Kristi Kates - October 26th, 2009
Mayberry, Meet Mary Ellen’s
By Kristi Kates 10/26/09

It’s probably been said before, but it bears repeating. Not only is Mary Ellen’s in Harbor Springs the perfect place for a small-town breakfast or lunch, but it’s also got the authenticity of a classic cafe straight out of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry; you half expect to see Floyd the barber standing around swigging a coffee, or Barney Fife swaggering in for his noontime lunch break.
Mary Ellen Hughes is the proprietor and well-known Harbor Springs character who runs Mary Ellen’s restaurant. And by character, we mean that in the nicest way; for those who frequent the place, it’s difficult to picture the restaurant without the familiar face of Mary Ellen bustling around, making sure her staff is getting things done, and chatting with the various customers, many of whom she’s quite friendly with and has been for years. The absence of Mary Ellen at Mary Ellen’s would be like Andy Griffith’s television household without Aunt Bee.
“Mary Ellen’s is an old-fashioned, ’50s-era soda fountain,” Hughes explains. “It’s got that hometown feeling; everyone knows everyone.”
“Everyone” also enjoys the added bonus of Mary Ellen’s in-house newsstand, at which you can purchase local newspapers as well as New York and Detroit editions, in order to keep apprised of the latest national news in addition to all that town gossip.
Hughes says that she can trace the origins of the original restaurant - which began as a soda fountain-slash-newsstand, and remains that way to this day - back to the tail end of the Roaring ‘20s, 1928 to be exact.
“It had different names, but the setting has always been the same - to my knowledge, it has also always been in the same building,” Hughes says.

The building doesn’t even look as if it’s changed much since the early days. Although it’s kept spotlessly clean and has a fresh coat of paint, the cafe tables and chairs, the bench underneath the awning out front (to which there’s usually tied at least one patiently-waiting, well-behaved dog) and the small white booths lining the walls wouldn’t be out of place at all in the 1950s.
Mary Ellen’s even has an authentic lunch counter that would be a familiar sight to those who hung out at places like Woolworth’s back in the day. With its comfortable stools and various soda and shake-making concoctions, this is no modern-day prefab “theme restaurant” a la Johnny Rockets; nope. This is the real deal, and it really is like dining in a time machine (albeit one with fresh ingredients and free internet access for paying customers.)
Those sodas and shakes will take you back, too. In addition to the usuals of Coca-Cola, coffee, tea, lemonade, and orange juice, Mary Ellen’s offers real phosphates (carbonated beverages made from scratch on-site - just like the old-fashioned “soda jerks” used to do), milkshakes, malteds, Brown Cow floats and Boston Coolers (Vernors ginger ale and vanilla ice creme) - plus everyone’s favorite Detroit ice creme import, the famed Sanders Hot Fudge sundae.

This wonderfully retro theme carries over to the food menu, as well.
“21 years ago, I expanded the menu to full breakfast and lunch,” Hughes says.
Breakfast includes such local favorites as Cinnamon-Grilled French Toast, Corned Beef Hash, Buttermilk Pancakes, Oatmeal, Bagels, the “M.E. House Special” (two eggs, bacon or sausage, crispy hashbrowns, and toast), and Mary Ellen’s own Stuffed Hash Browns with sour creme and cheese.
Lunch includes everything that a ‘50s-era Mayberry or Harbor Springs resident could ask for; homemade soup and chili, the M.E. Burger and Olive Burger, Grilled Cheese, Hot Dogs, a Tuna Salad Sandwich, and of course French Fries and Onion Rings. Leave your carb-counter at home and just enjoy the good ol’ days.
When asked what she thinks Mary Ellen’s restaurant brings to the community, the restauranteur remains humble.
“You should ask a community member,” she chuckles.
But given the always-bustling restaurant - “open 361 days a year,” as Hughes says - it’s pretty obvious that the community’s already just as committed to her as she is to them.

Mary Ellen’s Place - “Where Good Friends Meet for Breakfast and Lunch!” - is located at 145 East Main Street in downtown Harbor Springs, telephone 231-526-5591. Open Sunday 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., breakfast only; open Monday through Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., breakfast and lunch. Carry-out orders also accepted.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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