Frank's Restaurant celebrates 100 years of food, community, and tradition

From high school students to the movers and shakers of business and city government, for 100 years one spot has been the place to meet up in Zeeland.

Opened in 1924, Frank’s is the longest-running restaurant in the Zeeland and Holland area and is celebrating its100th anniversary this year.

“This kind of milestone is so rare and Frank’s is a business that has had so much personality that it has made an impact on the community,” says Abby deRoo, Zeeland city marketing director.

Over the years, little about Frank’s has changed. The location is the same — 134 E. Main Ave. The atmosphere is the same. The menu is largely the same.

“For people who have grown up in Zeeland, maybe went to Zeeland schools, they’ve flown off. But when they come home, they gravitate toward Frank’s. It’s part of their heritage,” deRoo says. “You go back in and it still feels like the same Frank's you left it as when you left Zeeland 50 years ago.”

Frank’s serves up classic burgers, fries, and shakes as well as breakfast fare in the heart of downtown Zeeland.

Community hub

“The place became a hub, a tradition, an institution,” owner Teresa VanderZwaag says. “Obviously, it has stood the test of time for many reasons.”

Zeeland High School was once on the spot of Cityside Middle School, just down the road from Frank’s. The restaurant was a high school hang out. Some students would spend their lunch hour working at Frank’s before heading back to classes.

“Generationally speaking, of course, there is no longer a high school  there, but the tradition has been passed down from generation to generation,” VanderZwaag says.

Now, Cityside Middle School students visit Frank’s every time the school has a half day.

Frank and Mary Dionise opened their fruit and confectionery store at 134 E. Main Ave. in 1924. The store evolved to become a dine-in restaurant, and in 1960 Frank’s was passed on to Frank Jr. and his wife, Pat. In the 1980s, Frank Jr. passed the torch to his son, Dan, who began helping his mom with the daily operations. In 2008, Dan passed away and Pat’s grandson Shane Hammer began sharing the responsibility of running the family business. 

COVID cooperation

VanderZwaag, who bought The Farmhouse, another local Zeeland restaurant, in January 2020, was introduced to Hammer as the pandemic began. Frank’s needed staff and The Farmhouse needed a place where groups could gather safely under COVID guidelines, so the two business owners decided to help each other out.

VanderZwaag and Hammer started dreaming up a permanent and more robust use for the building east of the original Frank’s restaurant. VanderZwaag applied for and received a liquor license for what became known as Frank’s East at 136 E. Main Ave.

VanderZwaag was accepted into the Frank’s family by opening Frank’s East, and shortly after, the bond was strengthened when the family trusted her to purchase the original Frank’s restaurant. 

Although there will be 100th anniversary joy throughout the year, the big celebration is planned for Aug. 10. The theme will be “Frank’s Throughout the Years.”

Commemorative t-shirts, mugs, and other items will be for sale this year.

“I have always longed for a community just like Zeeland. I am so blessed to be anchored here. I appreciate it so deeply,” VanderZwaag says. “We’re just happy and honored to help carry the torch.”

The reluctant restaurateur grew up moving around a lot. Although she always said she would never own a restaurant, she enjoys the community they create, so when she was given the opportunity first to buy The Farmhouse and then Frank's, VanderZwaag jumped in feet first.

“We’re excited to launch into the next century,” VanderZwaag says, “It’s a hundred years old, but in some ways it feels like only the beginning.”
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.