ALPENA, MI – It is hard not to notice that the restaurant landscape in Alpena is once again changing. The one common thread that these three closed restaurants have is that they are all located on the State Avenue/US-23 corridor.
Each closed restaurant was different in its own right. The most recently departed is that of Hungry Howies. Some will remember the day when this location was known as Jim & Ann’s Drive-In. It then became The Reuben House under the ownership of Odie and Mary Mills-Griffith.
Mary Mills was a good restauranteur. She had already made Odie’s Pizzeria very successful at 1008 State Avenue right next door to The State Street Party Store and across the street from The Dairy Queen. She knew her customers and she knew her product.
When Jim & Ann’s Drive-In went up for sale, she and her husband, Otis Mills, bought it. They took out the drive-in car hop service and renamed it The Reuben House. At that time she had a goal for the new venture. To make it as successful or more so than the pizzeria. For several years she met and exceeded that goal.
After the divorce of Mary and Odie, she continued to operate both restaurants.
It was after marrying Mike Griffith, she consolidated Odies Pizzeria and The Rueben House into the one location. Mary’s goals and passions were changing. It reflected in the sales at The Reuben House. Around 1981-82, Mary closed the restaurant and moved from the area. The building took on different names until it became Hungry Howies around 1994.
A complete remodel of the interior was done to the building to accommodate Hungry Howies needs. The building on the outside still today looks much like it did when Mary Mills owned it. The exception being that the red brick of the outside was painted tan to meet Hungry Howies requirements. It is not known why this Hungry Howies closed beyond the aspect of competition and low sales.
The next restaurant that is gone is that of Ja Noor Oasis. It was located in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center next to Subway. This store front has been many different things over the years. About 2 years ago a remodel of the interior was done for this particular restaurant. A good deal of money went into getting the doors open for Ja Noor Oasis. The food was middle eastern cuisine. Not something that residents of Alpena are used to consuming.
For any restaurant to succeed, you have to know your demographic of customers. The Alpena area is more inclined to go for meat and potatoes than another cultures dishes on any larger scale like Ja Noor Oasis had hoped for. Another reason why this restaurant was unsuccessful is that it was only open certain days of the week and many could not remember what those days were. It was not long in operation and this placed closed its doors.
Originally it was known as the Kentucky Motor Inn. It then became Hunan Chinese Restaurant for many years. Once Hunan moved out to the old Best Western Four Seasons Inn on M-32 West, the building went through many months of renovations. Residents waited patiently while the opening date of Los Cuatro Amigos kept being pushed back. Finally after many many months of waiting it was open. Business appeared to be steady in the beginning. But then it was very noticeable that the parking lot was remaining empty for the lack of customers.
The food was lack luster and the staff more so. It was a big disappointment that the owners of this restaurant did not have a better product to serve. The community had so hoped for its success when the doors opened.
The area is in need of medium upscale restaurants and one or two good new upper scale places to dine. The options for eating out need a jolt. It will be interesting to see what becomes of these three locations.