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11015 W. Front St.
Empire, Michigan 49630
Sunday - Thursday
7:30 am - 9:00 pm
Friday and Saturday
7:30 am - 10:00 pm
The Empire Village Inn
Pizza, Sandwiches and
Come and visit our other location in Empire!
Joe Wiesen, born December 3rd, 1929, originally hailed from Pennsylvania where he worked for the 3M Company. Joe, his wife Kathleen & their 8 children moved from Pennsylvania to Fowlerville, MI in the early 1970’s. On family vacations to Northern Michigan Joe discovered and fell in love with the Empire area and the Friendly Tavern.
In 1974 Joe and Kathleen bought the Friendly Tavern, changed the name to Joe’s Friendly Tavern and moved to Glen Arbor with their 8 children. In the spring of 1983 Joe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mike took over running the bar while Kathleen nursed Joe through (what were at the time) experimental cancer treatment procedures. In spite of all the treatment, Joe passed in the fall of the same year.
Joe is remembered by some as a good friend, someone with a unique personality and a good sense of humor. It is said that if he liked you, he made it very clear and you knew it. He must have been a good conversationalist because people found conversing with him quite agreeable and enjoyable. Other business owners in Empire found common ground with him and they say he was very supportive. People also report feeling that he had a great family and that he is remembered for his engaging smile. You can see that smile for yourself on the picture of Joe over the bar at the Friendly Tavern.
The Wiesen family owned Joe’s Friendly Tavern for 32 years from 1974 to 2000, longer than any other owners.
ABOUT THE FRIENDLY TAVERN
WHO WAS JOE ANYWAY?
The property where the Friendly Tavern now stands has been a local gathering spot since 1887. At that time the Company store for the Empire Lumber Company occupied the corner of Front and Lake St. The Empire Lumber Company operated in the area from 1887 till 1917 and during this period the company store served as the social hub for the entire community. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1906, was rebuilt, and destroyed by fire again in 1917. The mill was not rebuilt after the second fire, the company store was abandoned, the building fell into dis-repair and soon after was razed.
Chet Salisbury opened the Friendly Tavern in 1940. At this time the tavern, which had a license to serve beer and wine only, shared a space with the hardware store also owned by Chet. The Hardware Store/Friendly Tavern occupied the building across Lake St. to the North West from the current Friendly Tavern. Here it remained until 1946 when Chet gave his license to the Deering brothers.
It was in 1946, that returning WWII veterans, Mark and Warren Deering built the building that now is the home to Deerings Market and Joe’s Friendly Tavern. It was quite a challenge because building materials were in such short supply. Nails were hard to come by, cinder blocks were used because cement blocks were unavailable and the roof tresses were made of green wood, which explains the “wavy” nature of the current roof. Mark Deering managed the Market and Warren ran the Tavern. Also, in 1946 Warren, Chet Salisbury and a 12 year old Fred Salisbury took a road trip to Muskegon Michigan where they purchased the bar and tables that went into the new Friendly Tavern. By the end of 1946 the Friendly Tavern was serving Hamburgers and French Fries as well as beer and wine. The freshly ground Burger came from Deering’s Market next door.
In 1948, “The Empire Room” was added to west end of the Friendly Tavern. It was an open room with booths along the walls surrounding a large dance floor. Dancing couples and live music now became as much a part of the local Empire scene as the sight of Mary Deering, Warren’s wife, perched daily at her usual spot at the end of the bar. In those days, it was noted that you could “always tell who was in the tavern by whose dog was sleeping on the sidewalk out front.”
In 1970, Ted & Evelyn Mead purchased the Friendly Tavern. It was they who added the chalet façade to the front of the building. There is some disagreement about who decided to paint the entire interior of the Friendly Tavern green, some say it was Mary and some, Evelyn. In any case, the green bar and the antiqued green walls caused a furor among the Empire natives and eventually it was the Meads who returned the bar and walls to their more natural color. If you look carefully, you can still find areas of green antiquing of the Friendly Tavern walls.
In 1974 the tavern was purchased by the Joe Wiesen family and the name was changed to Joe’s Friendly Tavern. By this time a liquor license had been acquired. During this period the Friendly Tavern was host to many notable activities: pool and shuffleboard tournaments, toga parties, dances, special lunch and dinner parties and more. The Wiesens would also host “Smelt Fries”, cooking up the catches of local fishermen free of charge.
Almost all of the eight Weisen children spent their summers working at the Friendly Tavern to help put themselves through college. All eight have grown to be hard working successful members of the communities in which they live. It fell to Mike, 3rd of the 8 children, to take over the business when Joe became ill. The first years were very difficult: money was tight and Mike was still finishing his college degree. He routinely worked 90 hour weeks, but ultimately the hard work paid off. The menu was greatly expanded and the business improved every year. Joe’s picture can still be seen above the original bar at the Tavern.
In 2006 Joe’s Friendly Tavern and The Empire Village Inn were purchased by the Lerchen family: Frank, Mary, Max, Henry and Gemma. Frank had served as manager of the Friendly Tavern since 1996. In 2008 the Lerchens added Gemma’s, a coffee shop, bakery and ice cream parlor to the family of businesses. Originally Gemma’s was located across the street from the Village Inn, on the west side of scenic M22. Gemma’s now shares a space with the Village Inn, occupying the north half of the building.
It is not uncommon to see all of the Lerchen children at one or another of the businesses having a meal with one or both parents or even helping out around the places. As the children have gotten older and more independent, Mary has returned to work in the office and on the floor as often as she can. She is patient and competent with the office work but much prefers to be on the floor waiting on and meeting people. Frank, also a people person, can often be seen greeting people at the door or cooking on the line. He has continued to expand and upgrade the menu and frequently experiments with new foods and recipes. These experiments are much enjoyed by the staff who are used as taste testers. The whole family is involved in community events and sports which Frank coaches and Mary often organizes.