From the Underground Railroad to the assembly line that earned the Motor City its nickname, the events of more than 300 years have instituted Detroit as a melting pot of cultures and food, drawing families from all over the world to make the corner of southeast Michigan their home.
Restaurateur Tom Woolsey is proud to be descended from one of them. A third-generation Detroiter, Woolsey took over his grandfather’s cafeteria in 1980 and works hard to keep the family business at the center of the neighborhood he grew up in.
“I was raised here. I’ve been here my whole life,” Woolsey says. “When I was 8 years old, my nickname was Butchie. One day, my grandfather came out and says, ‘Butchie, come in and wash a couple of pots and pans for me.’ And he gave me my first buck.”
A quick drive through the nation’s automotive capital easily reveals many of old-time eateries that house pieces of Detroit’s rich history. Here are three such restaurants that continue to stand the test of time:
Andrews on the Corner
201 Joseph Campau Ave., Detroit // (313) 259-8325 // andrewsonthecorner.com
Nestled on the corner of Atwater and Joseph Campau Ave., this Rivertown staple has been serving hot-and-fresh classics since the building was first purchased by Gus Andrews in 1918. Originally Andrews Bar and Restaurant, the cafeteria was eventually bought out by Andrews’ grandson, Tom Woolsey, who modified the interior as a sit-down restaurant and gave the place its existing name.
“My grandfather came over from Greece and changed his name from a Greek name to Andrews,” Woolsey says. “He told me he came over on the boat — I think he was 9 years old or so. When he bought this, I think he paid about $12,000 for the place.”
When Woolsey took on the restaurant 62 years later, he added a few of his own innovations to the legacy his grandfather built. An avid hockey fan, Woolsey began shuttling Red Wings fans from his restaurant to the games in 1982 and continued until the pandemic hit in 2020.
“At one time, I owned eight buses,” Woolsey says. “It was not unusual to take almost 400 people to a game on Friday night. And the people I got to meet — players, coaches, owners, sportscasters — they all came in here. It was remarkable.”
Tom Woosley's daughter, Abby Judge.
Today, Woolsey runs the restaurant with the help of his wife and three daughters, who hope to keep it in the family for years to come. Aside from a fully stocked bar, Andrews is especially known for their crispy Lake Erie perch, which is brought in fresh every week and served as a sandwich or dinner portion with fries and slaw.
“What I’m most proud of are the people, the family, that contributed to making this place successful,” Woolsey says. “It can’t be done by one person. That’s what I’m most grateful for. I got to raise my family here — they worked hard and they learned a good culture. They’re good people, and that’s what I was able to do because of this place.”
24155 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington // (248) 474-7980
Photo: Greene's / Facebook
The last-standing representation of a trio of Detroit slider joints, Greene’s Hamburgers was opened in 1957 by Jake and Mary Jenkins, who managed the Farmington store for nearly a decade before buying the local chain from the Greene family in the late 1960s.
The business is run today by third-generation owner Dan Sutton, who took over for his mom after she passed away in 2019. Together with his grandmother, Sutton is staying true to his roots and works diligently to keep the quality of Greene’s the same as when it first opened its doors.
“We try to keep everything as original as possible,” Sutton says. “What makes us unique is that we still do sliders the way they were supposed to be done. We still hand-cut our onions daily. We’re still using the meat company we used 65 years ago. Everything is made fresh to order and we get deliveries five days a week. We just love being a little community place.”
Sutton has been around Greene’s his entire life. He started as a cleaning boy and learned his way around the eatery as he worked there through college. It’s in his DNA — Sutton’s parents met at Greene’s back when his mom worked behind the counter in high school. A bit of a troublemaker, Sutton’s dad would come in and infamously stick the smooth pickle slices from his sliders to the ceiling. It prompted the restaurant’s hasty switch to ridged pickles, which they’ve carried ever since.
Photo: Greene's / FacebookPhoto: Greene's / Facebook
“Working with family is difficult but rewarding,” Sutton says. “Mom was the glue that brought it all together. She helped usher us into some new eras, like putting in credit card machines and making Greene’s even more of a family place. She just made work fun.”
Greene’s serves regulars and newcomers alike from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Their classic, no-frills breakfast and lunch fare has kept customers coming back for decades.
“Making the 65-year milestone has got to be one of the proudest moments that I’ve had,” Sutton says. “Just to make it through the pandemic and come out the other side is huge. And that’s wholeheartedly because of our employees. Our manager has been here longer than I’ve been alive, and she does a fantastic job. We have other employees that have been working here 20, 30 years respectively. They are the reason that Greene’s is what it is.”
1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit // (313) 500-1475 // thelagerhouse.com
Dating back to Prohibition days, Corktown’s Lager House operated under the nose of authorities by posing as a furniture store until the passing of the 21st
Amendment. Owned and operated by the Doemer brothers until 1949, the neighborhood tavern took on many names until it was given its current title in the mid-1960s.
Now a popular rock bar, the restaurant hosts concerts multiple nights a week with original sounds ranging from hardcore punk to garage beats, indie and alternative pop.
“We’re a good way to see your next favorite band that you haven’t discovered yet,” says general manager Katelyn Burkart. “We don’t book cover bands. It’s a good place to see live, original music — people who are just starting out, doing independent touring or small venues.”
Today, Lager House is known for its authentic New Orleans-style food and extensive vegan and vegetarian menus. Present-day owner Alex Riley purchased the restaurant with his business partner in 2022, and it became their mission to push the venue to its fullest potential. Riley hopes that the addition of a basement bar and outdoor courtyard will add a community feel to the establishment while staying true to the integrity of the space.
“Lager House is a Detroit institution,” he says. “You can’t change that. There’s a lot of history in the building. We hope to be an anchor for the people who were already here before it was cool, which is why we’ve largely kept everything inside the existing bar the same.”
In the weeks ahead, Riley plans to extend kitchen hours until 2 a.m. to meet a need within the city for late-night dining options. This change aligns with the new owners’ pursuit to keep the Lager House as accommodating as possible to its diverse clientele.
“It’s not just out-of-towners; it’s not just townies; it’s not just people who are interested in music,” Riley says about his customers. “I’ve seen people wearing suits next to people who work at the construction projects nearby. That’s what kind of makes us unique.”