Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Man Bites Dog




Fall is a weird, transitional time of year, at least it is where I live. In the three months between marginally bearable summer heat and apocalyptic winter snow, the weather is maddeningly unpredictable. One day may be 65 degrees and sunny, only for the next day to be 35 with freezing rain. The retail landscape changes too. McDonald’s stops advertising the cherry pies that they’re always out of and begins advertising the pumpkin pies that they’re always out of. The big box stores have Christmas trees on display alongside Halloween costumes, counting on an influx of cash from holiday shoppers to increase their bottom line, and in the case of Sears and Kmart, to ensure half a chance at long term survival. Fall is also the time of year when the fast food outlets of this great land that do not offer indoor seating tend to close up shop until the weather warms back up, with their dormant deep fryers and soft serve machines secured behind metal shutters that cover their order windows. Their marquees declare “Thanks for a great season!” And “See you in the spring!” It was in the midst of this surreal autumnal transition that I realized that I hadn’t yet covered Dog n Suds.
Hey there Rover!

Jim Griggs and Don Hamacher were teachers in the University of Illinois’ music department in the early fifties. Seeking summer income between school terms, they partnered together to open a drive-in that focused on hot dogs and root beer, dogs and suds in 1953 midwestern parlance. The two partners began franchising their business on a whim, and rode the fast food boom of the fifties and sixties to an empire of 650 Dog ‘n Suds locations by 1968. A canine carhop named Rover appeared on signs, food wrappers, and other marketing materials. The chain shrank in the seventies for the usual reasons, namely drive in dining falling out of favor, increased competition from the national chains, and a new corporate parent making unpopular and ill-advised changes to the business. (Check out Restaurant Rewind’s Dog n Suds video for a full history of the brand.) Today, there are 14 or so Dog ‘n Suds locations open at least part of the year, stretching from Arkansas to British Columbia with the largest cluster in Illinois and Indiana. In late October, I was under the gun to visit as many locations as possible before they went into winter hibernation mode.

Meal 1
Locaiton
Dog n Suds
4221 Grand Haven Road, Norton Shores, Michigan
Order:
Black cherry float, root beer float (first visit)
Texas Burger, Coney Dog, fries, root beer, cherry chocolate shake, vanilla shake. (Second visit)


A beautifully preserved example of a Dog n Suds drive-in

The view under the canopy

I had enough points for a free hotel room in Muskegon, and Esmeralda Fitzmonster had a free weekend, so we decided to do a quick overnight trip sampling the forgotten fast foods of Michigan. We had lunch at Hot ‘n Now on the way out, Esmeralda’s first Hot ‘n Now meal in more than a decade, then dinner at our favorite Mr. Quick location. We then stopped by Dog ‘n Suds for some after dinner floats. 

The cherry float was a good decision. 

Unlike B-K and Frostop who only make their own root beer, Dog ‘n Suds locations seem to also offer a selection of their own proprietary flavors. The Norton Shores location offers home brew, root beer, diet root beer, black cherry, and cream sodas. Coke and Diet Coke are the only macrobrews on tap here. I really liked my black cherry float. With its slightly tart cherry flavor and deep red color, I was a little sad that I had an obligation to try the root beer on my next visit.


History of the brand, in a nutshell

When Esmeralda and I stopped by the same location for lunch the next day, I had a little more time to appreciate the building. It’s the embodiment of every 1950s drive-in restaurant you’ve ever dreamed of. With its painted curbs, bright colors, angled canopy supports, and vintage neon signage, the Norton Shores Dog ‘n Suds is one of the elusive working fast food museums that I’m always excited to find. I’ve previously corresponded with the owner, whose family business has been Dog n Suds since the mid sixties. He was nice enough to share some information he had on B-K drive-ins when I was researching that chain. it’s clear he is all about maintaining and preserving the Dog n Suds brand. He manages a Facebook page for his restaurant as well as one dedicated to the history of the Dog n Suds. 


Suds
Dog


Texas burger, an interesting take on the double deck burger trope. 

This time, I ordered myself a feast, a coney dog, a Texas burger and some fries which Esmeralda shared with me, plus a big mug of root beer. (Esmeralda is borderline obsessive about Mr. Quick, and opted for one last meal there rather than eating at Dog n Suds with me.) The sauce on the coney dog was unique and delicious, with a blend of sweet, smoky, and spicy flavors and chunks of beef, it reminds me of a cross between barbecue sauce and chili. The Texas burger, a Big Boy-Inspired double decker has the same coney sauce along with a tangy white sauce that I suspect contains mayonnaise, a bit of vinegar, and a spice blend I can’t quite place. The flavors work well together with the charcoal grilled beef. It reminds me of a Western Whopper, but it’s of much better quality than anything ever to come out of a Burger King. The fries were the ubiquitous crinkle cuts, but they were hot and fresh and cooked to the perfect level of crispness, among the best crinkle cuts I’ve ever had. 

People who enjoy antique signs would probably like this one. 

Dog n Suds has long marketed its root beer as the world’s creamiest, which I always thought was an odd distinction for a dairy-free product, but with its light carbonation and slightly thick consistently, I totally get it. It’s a pleasantly creamy root beer with balanced sassafras and vanilla flavors and just enough licorice that you know it’s there. We place an order for shakes to go and are delighted to find they’re slightly fizzy. My cherry chocolate shake had been flavored with the black cherry soda I was so fond of, and Esmeralda’s vanilla had been flavored with the house cream soda. They were not unlike the Boston Cooler I despise, but we’re deliciously unsullied by Vernor’s ginger ale.
After we returned home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to visit at least one more Dog n Suds to feel like I’d had the full experience. The other Michigan location in Montague had closed for the season, so I did some Googling to see if any other nearby locations were open. I was pleased to see that the sister locations in Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana were open through the following weekend. With minimal hesitation, I packed up the car and headed to the Hoosier State for another Dog n Suds adventure.

Meal 2
Location:
Dog n Suds 601 Sagamore Pkwy S, Lafayette, Indiana
Order:
Cheese coney, slaw dog with mustard, chocolate shake. 

The Lafayette Dog n Suds; I was there on October 27th, just under the wire. 

Obligatory under canopy shot. 

The view out my car's window

The owners of the two Lafayette area Dog n Suds locations are also the owners of the Dog n Suds trademark, having acquired it in 1991. This location, is in an older part of town, right up the street from a used car dealership that clearly began life as a Rax. The Dog n Suds has been open here since 1956. Architecturally speaking, the Lafayette location feels a little plain compared to the one in Norton Shores. Under the red and yellow canopy is a nondescript building clad in beige vinyl siding, likely installed in the past 20 years or so. There’s still plenty of Dog n Suds magic here though thanks to a nice combination of vintage and modern signage, and a Dog n Suds promotional car parked in the field out back. Made of the front ends of two late 1940s Crosley cars welded back to back to make a car with two front ends, it was neat to see. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it’s moved in a very long time. I’d love to see someone put it back on the road someday. 


Uncle Alligator's latest business venture

All Crosley cars are a little bit weird, but this is by far the most unique I've seen. My inner gearhead wants to make it roadworthy. 

The coney dog tasted just as the one in Michigan had, though the cheese added little to the experience. The flavorful sauce overpowered any cheesy flavor notes. I’m pretty sure the slaw dog was brought to me by mistake, as I’m relatively certain I had ordered sauerkraut instead, but it was a happy accident. The made from scratch coleslaw was deliciously tangy, and strong hints of celery salt gave it a unique bite. I might not have discovered it otherwise. The Lafayette Dog n Suds drive-ins serve their own cola, lemon lime soda, in addition to root beer. There are no Coke or Pepsi Pepsi products on the menu. I’ll have to try them on a repeat visit, as I was in the mood for a chocolate shake on this visit, and I stand by that decision. The shake I received was blended from scoops of ice cream rather than dispensed from a machine and was creamy and almost completely free of the crystallized bits you usually get in blended shakes. 

Cheese coney
Accidental slawdog



Meal 3
Location: Dog n Suds 401 Sagamore Pkwy W, West Lafayette, Indiana
Order: Boilermaker basket (Boilermaker burger, fries, coleslaw) Root beer. 

Night falls on the West Lafayette Dog n Suds

Central pillars made this canopy trickier to photograph.

The boilermaker is a burger that I suspect is unique to the Lafayette area Dog n Suds, since it shares its name with the mascot of nearby Perdue University. It’s basically a Texas Burger, minus coney sauce, plus tomato. The absence of coney sauce makes the flavor of the mayo-based special sauce and the charcoal grilled beef stand out more. It’s a perfectly serviceable double decker burger, and the smoky flavor of the beef makes it somewhat unique along Big Boy imitators. I think I prefer the Texas burger though. The fries didn’t taste as fresh as the ones I had in Michigan, but I didn’t care because I got more of my new favorite coleslaw. 

The mighty Boilermaker


So-so fries, and superlative slaw

The West Lafayette location was built in 2005, making it one of the few Dog n Suds to have opened in this century. It’s essentially identical to its much older counterpart across town, though its more modern surroundings and lack of patina on the canopy supports give away its age. Still, there’s vintage, or perhaps reproduction signage here with much of the neon lighting nonfunctional to add to the illusion that the place is much older than it is. 

Convincingly authentic signage

Push the button on the speaker to order. Flip the switch for tray pickup. 

In the 21st century, a drive in format restaurant is an anachronistic novelty, and at this point, part of the Dog n Suds brand identity. The chain experimented with a conventional fast food format concept at the beginning of its 1970s decline. Had they been more successful with it, Dog n Suds locations might have been much more common today, but drive-in Dog n Suds may have become extinct in the process the way Big Boy drive-ins have and A&W drive ins are in danger of. Still, it’s fun to imagine some alternate reality where some prehistoric butterfly flapped its wings a little more, causing cumulative effects over millennia resulting in a dine-in only Dog n Suds in every fast food row, McDonald’s being nothing more than a single-location local favorite in San Bernardino, and big-box Super Kmarts in every suburban shopping center, each with parking lots full of 2018 model Studebakers and Yugos.

Back in our reality, the handful of surviving Dog n Suds drive-ins I visited seem to be well-run, thanks to decades of experience. They offer a quality product and a memorable experience to their customers. It seems unlikely that the chain will see major expansion in the future, but existing locations are beloved institutions in their hometowns, and are likely to continue to be, at least as long as people own and drive their own vehicles, and seek out nostalgic experiences on warm evenings. 



Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Maryland Is a State of Mind


Ain't nobody in Maryland but us chickens. 

As a Detroit transplant, I’ve come to embrace many of my adopted home’s delicacies. I’m always down for shawarma from any of the numerous local Middle Eastern restaurants. If I don’t have at least one Greek salad and/or omelette at one of the many independent “Coney Island” diners around the city it throws off my whole week. I’ll occasionally enjoy a nice square Detroit style pan pizza with the sauce on top of the cheese, though that’s something I typically have to be in the mood for. Simultaneously, my Kentucky upbringing, has biased me against other local foods. I’m not a massive fan of Detroit Coney dogs, which come smothered in a thick meaty sauce, not dissimilar from chili, topped with mustard and minced onions. Instead I prefer my Greek-influenced chili dog in the Cincinnati style with a thinner chili sauce with a strong cinnamon flavor and a big pile of shredded cheddar. (Spaghetti with the same sauce and cheese, plus onions and beans is pretty good too.) The Cincinnati chili chain, Gold Star Chili, has long had a presence where I grew up in Central Kentucky, and their main competition, Skyline, has locations not too far away, as well as a line of grocery items. I’ll enjoy the occasional Detroit Coney, but the Cincinnati style ones are my preference, and probably always will be.

Vernor’s, a brand of ginger ale born in Detroit with a devoted following in southeast Michigan is another matter. I can’t stand the stuff. It has an excessive amount of carbonation and an odd metallic flavor. Maybe it’s a product of my youth drinking Ale8-1, Kentucky’s local ginger ale, or memories of an unpleasant childhood vacation in Northern Ohio where I fell ill and was force fed Vernor’s by my mother in an attempt to settle my churning gut. Either way, I flat out refuse to drink Vernor’s, or anything containing it, including the Boston Cooler, a mixture of Vernor’s ginger ale and vanilla ice cream, blended into an unholy float/milkshake abomination. No one knows why it’s called a Boston Cooler, as it originated in Detroit and is virtually unknown outside of the Detroit area, including Boston, where locals have no idea what a Boston Cooler is.

This phenomenon isn’t unusual in the food world. Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada. German chocolate cake isn’t from Germany. (It’s named for its creator, a British-American chef named Sam German.) I was therefore unsurprised when I learned that the chain, Maryland Fried Chicken, originated in, you guessed it, Florida.

It was the early sixties in Orlando when restaurateur Albert Constantine saw early Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises opening nearby and noted their popularity. In response, he developed his own pressure fried chicken and signature seasoning blend with 21 herbs and spices, because if you’re going to imitate Colonel Sanders, you’ve got to outdo him with regard to the number of spices in your signature recipe. When it came time to pick a name for the restaurant chain that would sell his chicken, Constantine settled on Maryland Fried Chicken, in an attempt to attract workers in a nearby aircraft plant, many of whom had moved to Florida from Baltimore. His plan worked, and Maryland Fried Chicken was an overnight hit in Orlando.

Franchising grew MFC into a relatively expansive chain by the time Constantine cashed out in 1975. I can’t find a location count of the chain at its peak, but the Florida chain at one time had locations as far away as Pennsylvania, and presumably Maryland at some point. Some unknown hardship brought about the chain’s decline, resulting in locations outside of the core market closing. Today, around twenty MFC locations are open in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. They seem to be loosely affiliated, connected by little more than name these days, with different owners operating their own websites and Facebook pages. Most surviving locations use the same decades-old signs or modern imitations thereof, remnants of an era when franchisees had more support from a corporate entity.

Weirdly, the lone surviving Maryland Fried Chicken outside of the south is open for business in Imlay City, Michigan, over 800 miles from the next nearest MFC in Florence, South Carolina. With the final vestige of MFC’s northern presence so close to me, I couldn’t resist making the 90 minute drive up to Imlay City to check it out.


The Imlay City location bears the surname of (presumably) the original franchisee, and plays it fast and loose with the word "fried."




That confusing drive thru sign makes more sense when you're there. I promise. 

I arrived a few minutes before the restaurant’s 11 AM opening time, despite a stop a few miles south to get a picture of a billboard advertising the Imlay City MFC. I take a minute to appreciate the small, house-like building that houses the business, as well as a few curiosities in the parking lot. There’s the rectangular main sign that contains the chain's signature yellow chicken characters over a red backdrop with a convex top edge, meant to evoke the shape earlier MFC signs, a few of which are still standing down south. There’s also a photo opportunity in the form of a larger than life image of the same chicken characters with holes for you, your children, and your elderly relatives to stick their heads through for a whimsical family photo. My favorite feature of the grounds, though, was the drive thru sign affixed to a living tree, which really sold the rustic vibe of the place.

Chicken joint or grandma's house? 

Fun for the whole family. 

Drive thru's over yonder, y'all! 


I walked in, the first customer of the day, and ordered a three piece mixed fried chicken meal from one of the two women who were running the place. I picked homemade chips and coleslaw as my sides. As I sat down and awaited my order, I heard the telltale high frequency whirring of some esoteric commercial appliance freshly spiral cutting the potatoes that would become my chips. With a few minutes before my order came up, I looked around.


I kind of want to go back, and just order all of the sides. 
Basically the entire dining area. 
The dining area is on the small side, but feels reasonably spacious thanks to judicious table placement and large windows with more solid yellow chickens. Decor is decidedly rustic and very chickeny, with many small chicken knickknacks on every available surface. It makes for a decidedly mom and pop feel in what is barely a chain restaurant. Given its distance from other units in the same chain it seems unlikely that the locals, or even some employees know that there are other Maryland Fried Chicken locations hundreds of miles away.

So... 

...many...

...chickens!
I don’t get to ponder the decor for more than a couple of minutes before my order is brought to my table. What sits before me is a mound of fried goodness, with my chicken buried underneath a mantle of special cut potato chips fresh from the fryer. I sample the chips first, because they’re on top and find them to be crispy and warm. They’re seasoned with a tangy, smoky powder that adds a slight barbecue flavor. I’m instantly a fan.


It was necessary to eat most of the chips to allow for optimal chicken access. 


With the chips out of the way, it was chicken time. 
Once I’ve depleted most of the chips, I find a fried chicken breast, wing, and thigh. They appear to have been cooked to order and have a thick crispy coating, roughly comparable in texture to KFC’s extra crispy breading. Unlike KFC, you can definitely tell the seasoning is there. There are hints of sage and paprika present when you bite into the chicken. It’s definitely a unique and pleasant flavor without being overwhelming, and it compliments the flavor of the chicken well. The coleslaw is nondescript, but acceptable, as most coleslaw tends to be. My meal also came with bread, which to by surprise tasted freshly baked, far exceeding my expectations of a factory-made roll from a plastic bag. Instead, the bread was dense and flavorful. I suspect it came from a local bakery.

As I finished up my meal and gave the place a last look. I was glad to have experienced it. As the final location of the chain’s I’ll-fated northern expansion, the Imlay City Maryland Fried Chicken is a unique site in the local fast food landscape. While I’m often biased against out of state analogs of the food I grew up with in Kentucky, I feel no such bias against Michigan’s only location of the Florida-based chain that sells chicken allegedly related Maryland. I can honestly say that I prefer the experience and food at Maryland Fried Chicken to that of my local KFC. Then again, my dirty secret is that as a person from Kentucky, I generally prefer Popeye’s To KFC, so my preference of Albert Constantine’s chicken over Harland Sanders chicken shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Careful, Man! There's a Sandwich Here!



It’s funny. I can look back on eight months of achievement, on Ollieburgers eaten, Kewpees visited, old Taco Tico buildings photographed. I’ve accomplished more than most restaurant and retail bloggers who focus on locations of endangered brands in Michigan and surrounding states, and without the use of my right nostril. What makes a broken chain, dear reader?

Is it having a drastically diminished location count and reduced value as a brand, no matter the current size of the chain? Isn’t that what makes a broken chain? I’m paraphrasing dialog from my favorite movie, but perhaps I’m right.

Blimpie, Blimpie America’s Sub Shop. I encountered one, open for business on a recent trip to Michigan’s upper peninsula. Are you surprised at its existence, reader? Open Blimpies still exist… Open Blimpies still exist. 




I took this photo last weekend. As you can see it is an operating Blimpie, run by franchisees who were able to achieve despite market domination by Subway. Zap will fill you in on the details.


On its surface, Blimpie looks like a healthy chain with a near national presence. There are currently just shy of 250 Blimpies open or set to open in 35 US states, but compared to the over 2000 Blimpie locations across 47 US states and 15 foreign countries that were open in 2002, Blimpie is looking pretty broken these days, especially compared to the other green and yellow sandwich place, Subway, which boasts over 26,000 US locations alone making it the largest restaurant chain in the US, ahead of McDonald’s by a wide margin.

The similarities between Blimpie and Subway are numerous. Each chain’s original location opened in the mid sixties with the first Blimpie opening a year before the first Subway. They were in close proximity to one another as well. Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the sandwich shop that would become Subway was only 70 miles from the first Blimpie in Hoboken, New Jersey. Both offered similar cuisine with menus consisting of the Italian-inspired sandwiches popular on the east coast known as hoagies, grinders, subs, poor boys, zeppelins, and countless other regional nicknames. Both chains expanded rapidly through the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s through franchising thanks to a low startup cost and minimal building requirements that allowed both Subway and Blimpie to set up in strip malls, food courts, and gas stations seemingly on every corner.




With so many similarities between the two chains, it can be difficult to fathom why Subway thrived while Blimpie floundered. My research revealed at least two reasons for this. Blimpie was founded by three partners, the aforementioned Tony Conza, Peter DeCarlo, and Angelo Baldassare. Baldassare left the company early on leaving Conza and DeCarlo in charge. The two remaining partners effectively split the company in two over a disagreement regarding expansion, leaving DeCarlo in charge of a new company that controlled Blimpie in the core New York/New Jersey market and Conza in charge of the original company operating Blimpies elsewhere. Both companies shared the rights to use the Blimpie name. Conza sold his Blimpie company to California Blimpie franchisee Jeffrey Endervelt’s investment group in 2002. Following Conza’s departure in shortly after the company’s sale, Blimpie was sold a second time to Kahala Corporation, which was itself sold twice between 2013 and 2016. Mergers and acquisitions of parent companies and the associated changes in direction tend to make restaurant chains shrink rapidly, and Blimpie was no exception. Contrast this with Subway, whose founder Fred DeLuca acted as CEO from 1965 until his death in 2015. DeLuca’s sister, Suzanne Greco took over as CEO following her Brother’s death. With four decades of persistent vision from the chain’s founder, Subway was able to step in and saturate markets where Blimpie locations closed. Even the recent closure of 1300 or so Subway locations, the result of changing consumer tastes and the revelation that Subway’s best known spokesman, Jared Fogle, is a literal child molester, barely makes a dent in Subway’s location count. They seem to be weathering the storm reasonably well, all things considered.



The other reason for Blimpie’s downfall in the face of Subway’s success seems to be marketing. In the 1990s, Blimpie’s marketing emphasized high quality ingredients including fresh cut deli meat. Subway’s marketing touted low prices and capitalized on the low fat diet fad and emphasized a menu with many low fat options, offering up Subway’s sandwiches as an alternative to burgers and fries. Health and budget conscious consumers ignored Blimpie’s fresh cut meats, and flocked to Subway, who incidentally receives their meats pre-sliced in plastic pouches. Until the sale of Blimpie in 2002, Tony Conza himself appeared in Blimpie commercials, but following the buyout, I don’t recall seeing much Blimpie marketing at all, perhaps because the new owners slashed the marketing budget, perhaps because all the Blimpies in my local television market had closed. Either way, in the ensuing years, a lack of attention from Blimpie's parent company allowed Jimmy Johns to dominate the premium sub market.

Blimpie today has locations from coast to coast, but with extremely spotty coverage. Unless you happen to live in a rare market that's home to a successful Blimpie franchisee with multiple locations like Atlanta or Boise, or an area where Blimpie has a corporate presence, like Northern New Jersey where, presumably, Peter DeCarlo’s company is still in control, or Phoenix, where the corporate entity that controls the rest of Blimpie is based, then chances are you haven’t eaten at a Blimpie lately.

♫Six,
Six dollar,
Six dollar regular sub combos♫

I recently set off on a long weekend jaunt to the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula with Esmeralda Fitzmonster with no intention of doing any Broken Chains related exploring. At least, that was the plan until I noticed a Blimpie within walking distance of the hotel where we stayed in Ishpeming. It turns out it’s one of only ten Bimpies in Michigan, and the only one in the U.P. Upon noticing its presence it occurred to me that the last time I recall eating at Blimpie was on a fourth grade field trip nearly a quarter century ago at Lexington, Kentucky's ill-fated Festival Market downtown shopping mall. I knew I had to check out the UP's only Blimpie while I was so close by.

I wish I hadn't already talked about a rug at Bonanza tying the place together. It really would have fit the motif of this post better, in the parlance of our times. 

Our first full day in the UP had been a long day of exploring the area's hiking trails and Marquette's downtown, after which Esmeralda and I returned to the hotel in Ishpeming, and while she napped, I walked across the parking lot to the Blimpie. It was early evening, and the place was empty. I was the only customer. I imagine it's more of a lunch place. Two employees were there to take my order and prepare my sandwich. I ordered a Blimpie Best, a cold sub containing four separate Italian-sounding meats. Just as with Subway the sandwich was assembled in front of me, with whatever toppings I chose. Compared to Subway's variety of sandwich toppings, however, the selection here felt limited. There wasn't much beyond lettuce, tomato, onion, and a couple different peppers to choose from. Likewise the bread choices were limited to white and wheat. I opted to dress my Blimpie Best on white with the aformentioned lettuce, tomato, and onion, plus some banana peppers and a curious creamy Italian dressing. I added a bag of Funyuns and a fountain drink (Diet Mountain Dew) to make it a combo, and sat down to enjoy my sandwich and my surroundings.

Only '90s kids will remember TVs like this.
Is this what the kids call a e s t h e t i c ?

The exterior of the Ishpeming Blimpie is not much to look at. Blimpie, like Subway doesn't seem to have much in the way of architectural guidelines for the exterior of their buildings, but the Blimpie's interior was another matter. With a hodgepodge of signs and accessories from the past 20 or so years of Blimpie history, the place feels a little bit like a Blimpie museum with its mixture of new logos and old. The walls and even the ceiling are covered in bright, high contrast colors. With the bright red ceiling fans against purple and white ceiling tiles, yellow walls, and checkerboard tiles on the front of the counter, the vibe reminds me a lot of the insane dayglow decor that Cinemark movie theaters had in the '90s. A wall-mounted CRT TV/VCR in one corner completes the illusion that it's 1996 again.

How I wish this fan were a giant spinning root beer mug!

The sandwich was... interesting. I like a good Italian sub, and there's no shortage of good ones in Metro Detroit. They typically get the balance of flavors right using a carefully curated blend of meats, cheeses, and condiments. The Blimpie Best stood in contrast to the sandwiches I find in independent Italian delis near home. The several highly seasoned meats coupled with the peppers and dressing reminded me a bit of licking a pine tree, and not in a good way. The vortex of herbs and spices simply did not play well with each other. On the plus side, they had been more generous with the meat than at the typical Subway, and the bread was, in my opinion, better, less chewy than at Subway. No one would accuse Blimpie of using yoga mat chemicals in their bread. At six bucks plus tax for my little combo, the price wasn't bad either. While I didn't love the sandwich I ordered, I'd come back to this Blimpie and order something else the next time I was in town. The interior decor alone is worth the price of a meal, but this location may not exist in its current form the next time I find my way to Ishpeming.

A Blimpie Best combo, not bad for six bucks. 
The Blimpie Best, about Subway 6" size. 
This Blimpie can be yours!

Multiple signs on the windows and on one side of the marquis note the owners are retiring and selling the entire business. I wish them the very best, but know that ownership changes often spell doom for franchised businesses like this one, especially in such an isolated market with no other franchisees around. I've often entertained fantasies about buying a franchise in some obsolete restaurant chain and striving to run it as the best example of that chain that I could, and briefly entertained a fantasy of taking out a loan  and buying the Ishpeming Blimpie. When I floated the idea to Esmeralda, she pointed out that I'm a hermit who doesn't like interacting with strangers, and that's not exactly conducive to running a restaurant. When I mentioned other similarly introverted restaurateurs like Luke Danes and Bob Belcher, respectively of Gilmore Girls and Bob's Burgers she pointed out that they're both fictional characters. I can't refute her point, I'll stick to my day job, but the idea of doing my part to keep the Blimpie brand in the aloft as the sole location in the more pleasant of Michigan's two peninsulas has been my favorite fantasy since returning home.

"Your car was parked in a Blimpie customer zone. Perhaps they towed it"