I'd like to tell you a bit about my maternal grandparents, Fred and Harriett Newton. They were salt-of-the-earth folks from Mid-Michigan, no doubt about it, maybe not so different from anyone else's grandparents. But I think you'll find their tale of entrepreneurship interesting. I'm in the process of writing a series of posts related to "My Story", and I definitely have to attribute some of my entrepreneurial spirit to my grandparents.
My mother's side of the family was from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and so am I. To illustrate, hold your right hand in front of you so you can see your palm. Now, with your left index finger, touch the center of your palm. That's where we're from (no GPS system needed).
As newlyweds, my grandparents moved to Florida so my grandpa and his brother could work on new roads being built in the wilderness there. Coincidentally, my grandpa's brother married my grandma's sister. The two young couples lived in tents near the beach for a year. "Roughing it" would be an understatement. Florida was nothing but swamps and mosquitos back then. My grandma kept herself occupied by making jewelry from shells and worked on various needlecrafts. One of her favorite sayings was "busy hands are happy hands", and I know I get my love of crafting and needlework from her too (more on that later)!
Here are my grandparents in their home sweet home:
Living in a tent is even less glamourous than it sounds. When they returned to Michigan, they bought a house and started a restuarant and catering business called The Harmony on the main floor. They lived upstairs, which was a smart business move at the time because the Great Depression was about to arrive, and having your home and business in the same building really saved on expenses.
My grandmother, below left, grandfather, and my paternal great-grandmother in 1930. I think it's safe to say that I didn't get my sense of humor from my grandfather's side of the family:
Newspaper advertisements such as the one below show The Harmony's desire to please their customers:
By the time my grandparents had their three children, Louise, Lucile (my mom) and Joe, they were running their successful restaurant and raising their family upstairs. They escaped the ravages of the Great Depression through some luck and sheer hard work. Situated near Central Michigan University (then called Central Michigan College) campus, the Harmony fed the various sports teams and my grandparents catered many college events.
Note the price of a meal during the Depression:
Little Mt. Pleasant was somewhat insulated from the Depression because there was a mini oil boom in Isabella county around this time that provided jobs and pumped money into the local economy. Still, there was evidence of hard times, like when the hobos that rode the rails would stop in town, asking for handouts. My kind-hearted grandmother would feed them a full meal on the steps behind the restaurant. Just the thought of the vagabonds having a delicious meal in a dignified manner courtesy of my grandma makes me so happy! (The pic below is a stock photo of Depression-era hobos):
The success of their restaurant eventually led to CMU asking my grandparents to run their College Cafeteria. They were now serving my grandmother's wonderfully homemade food to pretty much everyone that attended the college, because the dorms didn't serve food back then. Faculty and students were treated to homemade cinnamon rolls and bread, baked corned beef hash, Hungarian goulash, and beautiful chocolate cake or caramel cake, to name a few examples.
Here's my hard-working grandmother, Harriett Newton, planning a menu for the College Cafeteria:
After running the College Cafeteria for around 15 years, my grandparents were ready to strike out on their own again, and started Newton's Dining House, another successful venture with the family living above the main floor restaurant. When they advertised "Home Cooked Meals" they really meant it!
Apparently, Newton's Dining House relied more on word-of-mouth than signage. In the picture below, my grandpa Fred Newton proudly stands in front of his restaurant:
Fast forward a few years, and my grandparents were ready to retire, at least from the restaurant biz. They purchased some lakefront property including a series of cottages on Michigan's Crystal Lake, and ran an old-fashioned lakeside resort. What makes lakeside resort "old fashioned"? Back then everything, including the scratchy wool swimming suits, could be rented. Most people didn't have all of the personal swimming accessories that we now have.
Crystal Lake was actually kind of a hot spot in its heyday. They had a palladium for live big-band music and dancing, and a lovely old merry-go-round that folks fondly remember. Rumor has it the entire Crystal Lake merry-go-round was dismantled and donated to Michigan State University, who has it in underground storage. Most merry-go-rounds were sold in pieces for the valuable carved wood horses & such, so it's very special that a complete example exists locally, even though it's all packed up. (Pictured below is a generic carousel):
Unfortunately, I don't have any memories of life at the lake, because my grandparents sold the resort around the time I was born and moved back to Mt. Pleasant. Every time my family went to their house for dinner, my grandma would make a child size loaf of bread just for me. We would always peek to find out what kind of cake or pie was cooling in back of the kitchen. Coconut cake, spice cake, raspberry pie made with my grandpa's own homegrown raspberries, or my favorite, lemon meringue pie was often found. All of the meals were served on my grandma's collection of chartreuse Fiesta Ware, and after dinner we'd watch Lawrence Welk.
To end this post, I'm including my grandma's Caramel Nut Slices, also attributed to my Aunt Louise. These are super easy and were known as "refrigerator cookies":
Caramel Nut Slices
1/2 C margarine
1 C Brown Sugar
1 3/4 C flour
1 1/2 t soda
1/4 t salt
2/3 C chopped nuts or shredded coconut
Cream first three ingredients. Add pre-mixed dry ingredients and mix well, adding nuts or coconut last. With a spatula, scoop the mixture onto a piece of wax paper, making a log shape. Roll up and chill well. Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges brown. This recipe freezes well too.