Beulah’s Lucky Dog Restaurant and Cool Cat Ice Cream Bowl
Sit down, get a treat.
By Ross Boissoneau | July 20, 2019
Cool cats and lucky dogs, all in the same place. Thanks to Rich and Karen Allen, the downtown Beulah’s former bowling alley has been reborn as a rustic bar and grille, dubbed Lucky Dog, and ice creamery, Cool Cat Ice Cream Bowl.
“Cool Cat came first,’ said Rich, crediting his daughter for the name, noting it played off the name of an establishment in Elberta. “One of the things she liked was the name Trick Dog,” he said, referencing the since-closed coffee shop and gallery perched in the Elberta Bluffs, overlooking Frankfort. “She had friends in the advertising world who came up with the logo, then the Lucky Dog logo.”
Both restaurant(s) opened last year after extensive renovation. The roof of the bowling alley had collapsed following a snowstorm, and the area where it collapsed is now Nature’s Courtyard, “since nature took it down.” It connects the two sides of the family business, and is also where the on-site meat smokers are located.
Those comes in handy, since one of Lucky Dog’s signature dishes is its smoked wings. “They vie for most popular dish,” said Allen. “That — and all our burgers.” Reminded that one of his servers pointed to the dishes made with smoked pulled pork as the second most popular, from a sandwich to nachos, he immediately included those as well and quickly credited the man behind the menu.
“Our head chef, Eric Niemi, had a lot of experience on Mackinac Island, from high end to other places. He was a local, and I enticed him with 12-months-of-the-year employment. He makes simple meals that people love.”
Allen said the fact the restaurant is open year-round is indeed an inducement in an area where it’s difficult to attract employees, particularly on a seasonal basis.
Allen and his family live on Platte Lake, having moved to the area permanently in 2011 after seven years as seasonal residents. He grew up on Chicago’s South Side, where he worked at his family’s bar as a pre-teen, serving up beers and bets. As an adult, Allen worked in the securities industry. When he decided to make an investment in some commercial property, he found what he was looking for in the tiny beach town of Beulah. The opportunity was win-win: “There was 10,000 square feet in the center of downtown. Make some improvements, and the business activity will help the whole town.”
He had a hunch that the town’s location on Crystal Lake and near Crystal Mountain would provide enough business to enable the eatery to remain open year-round. “Employees and a manager needed 12 months a year,” he said, “so I made a contract to be open at least two winters.”
It was a good bet. “The first [winter] was excellent — every month better than the previous,” he said.
Lucky Dog joins a seemingly burgeoning restaurant scene in the tiny village, which includes A Papano’s Pizza, the Hungry Tummy, L’Chayim delicatessen, Ursa Major, Eastern Shore Market, Cold Creek Inn, The Roadhouse just up the hill in Benzonia, plus food trucks, and Five Shores Brewing brewpub undergoing renovation, with plans to open this year. Allen is unbowed, believing there is plenty of business to go around.
“We seem to have hit a sweet spot. We’re helping to put Beulah back on the map.”
Although Five Shores isn’t yet open, Lucky Dog is already partnering with Five Shores for a signature beer. “We’ll market it as being brewed a block down” the street, he said.
That beer will join 19 other taps at Lucky Dog. “We have a magnificent manager, Ray Knox. He rotates the beers. It’s amazing how many there are,” Allen said. A photo on the restaurant’s wall, which tells of Allen’s early days, also notes the swelling number of breweries in his hometown of Chicago, from 165 in 1955, to none in 1980, to 205 in 2017. More recent statistics point to a total of 213 in the city and its suburbs.
Benzie County, of course, isn’t quite as crowded. Five Shores will make four in the county, joining Lake Ann Brewing, Stormcloud in Frankfort, and Brose Brewing at St. Ambrose just outside Beulah proper. Lucky Dog includes brews from each of them, as well as from others from across the state and the country, in its rotation. “We support our local ones,” said Allen.