Like Emma Toft before her, my Grandma Lehwald was one of Door County, Wisconsin’s early women entrepreneurs. In the 1960’s she told her husband she wanted to open a “hot dog stand” as a small hobby. We all know how “small hobbies” go. Today, almost 60 years later this humble hot dog stand is the the full service Summer Kitchen restaurant on highway 42 in Ephraim, WI.
My parents came to Door County on their honeymoon in 1961 and they stayed in some pretty swanky spots like Gordon Lodge and the White Gull Inn. When they returned home they raved about the gorgeous landscape and the magical beauty they experienced. In less than a year, grandma and grandpa were buying land and building their retirement project, originally called the Red Barn Restaurant because it stood right across the street from the big red barns, today the Island Lavender Company. This little hot dog stand served hamburgers, shakes and hot dogs through the window where you placed your order, but over the years it grew into a full service restaurant and cottages. Grandma ran the kitchen and cottages and Grandpa loved tending the driving range, especially riding his big mower to pick up golf balls.
I celebrated my first birthday here and our family gathered for holidays, especially Thanksgiving. There was an abandoned red barn way out back where me and my cousins “made” our own pies by smashing red berries (probably poisonous) into rusty found objects. Grandma let us sneak into the kitchen and dip our fingers into the always heated hot fudge pot. Clara Appel baked the pies and back in the day Grandma managed to always find the reliable help she needed. After several years they sold the business and built their dream house in Sister Bay right next to St. Rosalia’s cemetery. Our memorable holiday gatherings moved over to Maple Lane and we savored walking down the road to bowl at Sister Bay Bowl when we were old enough to go into town without adults.
Grandma Lehwald lived to a wise old 97 years of age. She painted with oils, kept a full candy drawer for her grandkids and great grandkids, attended art classes at The Clearing and became proficient in embroidery, cross stitch and tons of card games. She also cheated (or at least it seemed like it) on her strokes when we played “pee-wee golf” at The Red Putter.
When my father sold his house this year, I found one of Grandma’s unfinished oil paintings in his attic. The painting featured the Red Barn hot dog stand, roughed out on the canvas. My own mother was a proficient oil painter and I saved all her paints when she died. So I bubble wrapped the canvas and shipped it up to Baileys Harbor where I spent last few seasons finishing Grandma’s work.
The painting needed life. The colors were muted and she didn’t include any people in her composition. Long ago, I found a post card of her Red Barn restaurant in an antique store so I used that to convey authenticity in the building design. Her restaurant patio was covered in a pink corrugated roof which made all our food look pink no matter what we ordered. As a four year old girl this was a wonder work of beauty. I added my cousins playing hide and seek and grandma walking to the kitchen with her buckets of apples for Clara’s pies. I couldn’t resist painting their Lincoln Continental in the gravel parking lot and the little wooden train at the campground next door which we snuck over to play on when Grandma wasn’t watching.
I adored and respected my grandparents. They worked hard all their lives and how they loved us. They taught us to love and respect the land of Door County and the invaluable bonds of family. I’m so thankful that today their work continues at the Summer Kitchen restaurant in the capable hands of the Jauregui brothers who still serve homemade pies. If you’re up in Door County, stop by and walk into 60 plus years of serving home cooked food to residents and guests in need of a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie on a crisp fall day. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!