CADILLAC — Gary Olszewski wasn't interested in buying the Bear Den Grille in Cadillac when it was initially offered to him ... it took some convincing.
Olszewski was one of the founders and operators of the restaurant that the Bear Den Grille eventually replaced — Da Dawg House — so he knew a thing or two about what it takes to run a business of this type and the stress involved.
At the time of its opening in 2007 — replacing the former Saddle Inn at the location on M-115 just north of the Canal — Da Dawg House was billed as a "true Coney Island experience."
"We wanted to make it a place where people want to have fun and make it their own place," Olszewski told a Cadillac News reporter back in 2007. "That is our plan."
Despite developing a loyal clientele base and enjoying steady business for several years after opening, Olszewski eventually stepped away from ownership of Da Dawg House following a dispute with his former business partner and by 2014, the restaurant had closed.
In 2015, after extensive renovations and a complete motif transformation, Rick Cushman opened the restaurant back up as the Bear Den Grille. After four years in business, however, Cushman closed the Bear Den Grille, citing the difficulty they had in keeping the restaurant open during lulls in the season, especially wintertime.
Olszewski said he was approached about buying the building after the Bear Den Grill was closed, but with prospects on the horizon of potentially opening a restaurant in Florida, he turned down the offer. A group of investors then approached Olszewski and asked him if he would reconsider reopening the restaurant and eventually, he agreed ... on one condition — that it be run as more of a pure Coney Island eatery as opposed to a formal, sit down and stay awhile joint.
"We're doing what should have been done at Da Dawg House," Olszewski said. "A quicker meal at a lower price point."
The original plan was to reopen the restaurant as Da Dawg House, but there was one aspect of the old restaurant that convinced him to change his mind: Da Dawg House, some might remember, featured a massive pair of wooden legs that stuck out of a window, parallel to the ground, over the front door. The legs were a joke, Olszewski said, and played on the anecdote we've all heard before about the husband who has to sleep in a different room because his wife isn't happy with something he did — or didn't do.
While many thought the legs were an odd and hilarious addition to Cadillac West, Olszewski said some people didn't care for them at all.
"People were very opinionated about them," Olszewski said.
Wishing to avoid further controversy, instead of Da Dawg House theme, Olszewski decided to draw on his experience as a volunteer firefighter for inspiration.
In September, Olszewski opened the doors to the Firehouse 115 and little by little, word about the new restaurant has been spreading within the community, he said.
In addition to the classic Coney Island hot dog offerings, the Firehouse 115 also has burgers, chili, salad, deep-fried mac and cheese, jalapeno poppers, various sandwiches, gyros, battered mushrooms, grilled cheese, biscuits and gravy, omelets, and hashbrowns, among many other items.
Soft drinks, milk, juice and coffee are the current offerings for refreshments, however, based on feedback they've received so far, Olszewski said they are in the process of obtaining a beer and wine license, which he hopes to have before the holiday season begins.
Affixed to several walls and the ceiling of Firehouse 115 is an array of vintage firefighter gear, in addition to some antique items snagged from the original Dawg House restaurant.
While the wooden legs are conspicuously missing from above the door, Olszewski said he has an artist working on a 7-foot wooden sculpture of a Dalmatian dog wearing a fireman's helmet that will be installed in that spot.
Eventually, Olszewski said he'd like to set up the Dawg House legs somewhere on the property so people can take pictures next to them if they like — something that happened quite a lot at the old restaurant.
Olszewski also hopes to expand the business to include a drive-through lane, although this goal is still very much in the planning stages, he said.
The Firehouse 115 is open every day except Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call (231) 444-6255 or look them up on Facebook.