June 1, 2005

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Probably Ben's daughter Bea behind
the counter ~ 1930s

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Douglas Cafe ca 1925

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Ben with family Ford 1923

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Corner of Center and Main 1910 per Sanborn map

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Historic apple sauce cake recipe


As Douglas becomes well-known for its restaurants, it is interesting that the corner of Center and Main Streets in downtown Douglas has been a sort of "restaurant corner" off and on since the 1930s. Many people today remember it as being the home of the Auction House restaurant (the Auction House sign is now in the Saugatuck-Douglas museum collection of local business signs).

Nevertheless, documenting the history of the present structure that houses the Chaps restaurant in that restored old building presented a puzzle. We became inspired to work on this when Geri Van Meter, the former owner of the Auction House (the predecessor to the present Chaps) sent us a couple of photos of the building, and we then acquired more information and photos from Jan Van Liere, who created Chaps in 1998.

Assembling the clues, here is what we have found. The structure itself was built in the early 1900s as Ben Wiegert's Model Grocery and shows up on a 1910 "Sanborn Fire Map" with separate entrances for groceries and drugs. Ben is shown above with the family Ford sedan in 1923.

The photo of the store's exterior, from around the same time suggests that the grocery business had fallen into hard times, and might explain why, by the 1930s, the Wiegerts had converted the space into a restaurant called the Douglas Cafe. We speculate that the woman in the upper left photo is the Weigert's daughter Beatrice-standing behind the dining counter at a cookie jar. Beatrice was in the Douglas school 'upper grades' in 1920-21. According to Mr. Demi Demerest, the Douglas Cafe was well known for pies and cakes (check out the glass case to the rear of the room). We feature one of the desert recipes from Beatrice's recipe book, now in the possession of Jan Van Liere. Does anyone have a Douglas Cafe menu and does anyone know when the restaurant closed? Let us know any information and of course we would like to sample a piece of the apple sauce cake!

Several years ago Kit Lane started a Historical Society research project on restaurants in the Douglas-Saugatuck area-collecting photos, menus and stories of people who worked in them. If you wish to contribute your recollections, photos and menus to this project, please contact us.   by Jim Schmiechen

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