Over the years the concession stand at Windmill Pointe Park has gone by different names: the snack shack or the snack bar, the food hut or simply the concession stand.
Its more formal names, Jo Jo's and Abraham's Oasis, among others, have come and gone, but it's not so much what's in the old names, but in the family name that has taken over the operation.
The new operators, the Muer family, have some street cred when it comes to restaurants. Mary Lou Muer is the wife and business partner to David Muer, owner/operator of the Blue Pointe restaurant in Detroit for more than 30 years. David is a cousin to the Muer brothers of seafood restaurant fame and is brother to Michael who runs the Harvard Grill in Grosse Pointe Park.
Under the guidance of Mary Lou, a Grosse Pointe Park mother of eight children ages 16-30, the food--and the service--have been stepped up. The new, aptly-named Park Cafe has an all-around new feel. Cafe tables with colorful, striped umbrellas are situated on the lawns around the Tutor-style building located between the pool and the tennis courts and on the way to the boat docks.
Mary Lou Muer is focused on playing up the outdoor cafe vibe, which comes with gorgeous views, but more importantly the food is an upgrade.
"We're trying to create a cafe atmosphere..we're trying to be friendly we wanted to be a place to gather and to meet," she said. "We want to be more service oriented, and we want to hear from the customers what they'd like."
The Park Cafe will still turn out cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries, candy, slushies and other top sellers, but there will also be daily specials such as salads and sandwiches, made fresh each day. On Wednesdays, the day after the weekly regatta, shrimp salad will likely be on the menu.
Mary Lou is using her Muer seafood restaurant connections to bring in fresh shrimp for the Tuesday special. What's left over will become Wednesday's shrimp salad. Daily special boards are posted at the gate to the park and outside the cafe. The shrimp--and new boat deliveries, are already a hit with sailors and boaters.
She's looking forward to being more service oriented, and that includes making boat and dockside deliveries--from fish to ribs--right from the stand or from the Blue Pointe, which has catered at the Tompkins Center at the Park for years. She'd like to do birthday parties, events and feed whatever event customers have in mind. Some catering clients all already on the calendar.
"We want to hear what people want, the kids and the adults," she says.
Already, veggie platters, sugar free ice cream, an egg basket and a handful of other items have come from customers' suggestions. And at the customers and the city's request the hours have also been extended. The Park Cafe will open seven day a week at 7 a.m. It will close at 9:30 p.m. unless the Park is still busy and people want food. On Memorial Day, when 3,000 people came through the Park, Muer says, she was open until 10 serving ice cream.
One extra cool change is the Park Cafe's partnership with Wally's frozen custard. Wally's owner leased a machine that will serve chocolate, vanilla or a twist. It'll be sold at separate window from the food orders. You'll know it by the two large, wooden ice cream cones hanging on the side of the building now, on either side of the serving window. David Muer made them. Root beer and slushy floats will be made with Wally's.
Muer has also shaken up the breakfast menu, which will change daily. Blueberry pancakes and sausage, French toast.
"We have people coming for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings," she says. "They come at 6,7 when the sun is coming up. It's gorgeous and they have a perfect view."
And the beverage line-up has been grown and been updated with all new lines and delivery systems for the Coca-Cola fountain and there's a dispenser for a ice tea and lemonade and flavorings.
Behind the scenes, Muer's Park Cafe is a job source for some 25 people, four of them full-time, two of those being recent college graduates heading to graduate school and dental school and the other two being current college students working over the summer break. Some of her own children have been hired too, keeping with tradition of coming from a family restaurant business.
"We have a one-year contract…Hopefully everybody's happy and we get invited back," she says.
Personally for Muer, who was previously the director of religious education at St. Clare Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Park, the cafe is a chance to work in the community she loves, be close to home, close to the Blue Pointe and to be close to her children.
"When this came available we thought it could be perfect for our family," she recalled. "Part of being down here is the beauty of this place. We don't have to drive Up North. We have the most beautiful spot right here….And there are so many cool people."
One person that especially touched her was a soldier just home from Afghanistan.
"It was his first 14 hours back, and all he wanted to do was fish. He needed ice," she said. "We started talking. He said, 'All I've been doing is dreaming about fishing'. He was just a great guy. How cool is that to get to meet someone like him?"
A part of the business is also getting to know the regulars, she says.
"Some of the older men, retired, they have the greatest stories," she said. "I said to my husband, 'This is such a great atmosphere. It's like being a part of a club: boaters, fishermen, swimmers.' I feel very lucky to be here."