Leelanau News and Events

The Mill In Glen Arbor Partners With Fernhaus Hospitality Group; Cafe To Open This Summer

By Emily Tyra | Feb. 14, 2022

The grist mill in Glen Arbor is currently an active construction site: Crisp white siding is going up and a shipment of new windows just arrived. There is an air of fresh energy inside the historic structure, and not just from the gaps in the woodwork that allow winter light to seep in from its riverine surroundings.

Glen Arbor resident Turner Booth, owner of the 1897 mill and property, has partnered with members of Fernhaus, a new Northern Michigan hospitality group. They plan to welcome the public to a small café housed in the grist mill annex this summer.

“This wing was built in the 1970s,” Booth says of café space. “It was a former recording studio.”

His cohorts at Fernhaus are working to secure a chef partner and to develop a menu that showcases local farms, brands and businesses. They will offer grab-and-go sandwiches, pastries, and coffee operating from morning into afternoon.

Booth — who has been working to revitalize the mill and to rehab a historic home on the property over the last three years — adds, “I don’t think that every idea that has been expressed over the past years will be ready, but we will have the café open this summer in some capacity with health and wellness classes as well.”

He notes, “efforts lately have been focused on getting the structural components of the mill shored up.” Booth has also put in a small gravel parking lot to accommodate the construction crew and soon-to-be visitors.

He says the local landmark he’s “admired since I was a kid” will “bring a little energy to town. It’s a museum, and a health and wellness venue, and it has food and beverage components. Elevating that around Glen Arbor and Leelanau County is definitely part of our mission. In time, we would love — and intend to — have a small-footprint, full-service, 30-seat restaurant,” he says, noting, “There is enough going on here [in Glen Arbor] that there needs to be another dining option.”

Booth says he was introduced to Kelsey Duda, president of the hospitality group Fernhaus by the director of the Leelanau Wellness Collective, Katherine Palms, who is another collaborator at the mill.

Duda moved to the area after receiving national acclaim for a vacation property — also dubbed Fernhaus — she designed and built from the ground up on a piece of land she purchased in Elk Rapids.

She was joined three months ago by Fernhaus marketing director Jamie Kirby (who most recently served as creative director with the footwear brand Chaco) and director of food and beverage Ryan Murphy, who both relocated to Northern Michigan. The company’s portfolio includes The Riverside Inn in Leland, and The Mill in Glen Arbor, and a handful of other food/beverage projects soon to be revealed.

Says Duda of their collaboration with Booth at the mill: “Our vision is for elevated hospitality, and to preserve as much history as possible…but bringing it into a new era.”

Notes Kirby: “We have been doing a ton of research, understanding what iterations it’s been through — including the recording studio in the 70s — and talking with local folks who were involved at that time, plus engaging in conversations about what this place and water meant pre-European history. We are trying to infuse those things in the space for future generations.”

Duda agrees that they are focused on getting the vibe and the space right.

The original milling equipment will remain on display, with wayfinding verbiage sharing how the grist mill used to operate. Says Booth, “people will have the opportunity to tour through and see how the old mill used to work, and maybe grab a coffee one the way out.”

Kirby shares that they plan to have active milling in the café space.

Explains Booth, “It will never be commercial operation where we are packaging our own flour, but we’d love to see the mill used as a mill in some capacity. If we can put the flour into our own breads and pastries sold in the morning, we’d like to do that. It’s a nod to our history.”

Kirby says more community feedback is key as they move into the next phases. “This is a community hub. And the public will help us decide the kinds of things that will happen here.”

The mill and its neighboring property brought debate to the community, which culminated in a public referendum in early August 2021, where residents of Glen Arbor Township voted to uphold the recent rezoning of the Brammer property, which abuts the historic grist mill property on the Crystal River.

“I’m looking forward at this point to getting the preservation done and opening. We are not looking backwards,” says Booth.

But even with that recent past behind him, Booth adds, Fernhaus “intends to honor the farming history of the community with the food we serve. This was an agricultural property previously and we hope to restore those bonds.”

He adds, “This was the center of commerce and community — the farmers from all around would come and wait in line to have their grain ground for flour. The miller’s wife would bring them donuts in the driveway. The café will be a throwback to this, as a place community people want to go to see friends or to take their family when they’re visiting. The fact that there’s some history and educational components baked into this, that’s even better.”

Photos by Jamie Kirby

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