Glen Arbor mill finds new life as cafe, restaurant and hotel

When it was built nearly 150 years ago, the grist mill in Glen Arbor was a gathering spot for area farmers bringing their grain to be turned into flour or meal.

These days, the landmark beckons to visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – perhaps as guests in one of its three rooms, or for food and drink and baked goods at its restaurant and bakery.

Its restoration and reuse as new businesses is another example of rural innovation across Michigan. The Mill Glen Arbor also has sparked pride in the northwestern Michigan community. 

The Mill today: “The Mill Glen Arbor (is now) a contemporary hospitality take on a Northern Michigan landmark,” says Corey Smith, general manager. “The Mill serves as a riverside cafe, restaurant, and hotel — offering seasonal and regionally sourced fare, freshly baked pastry using house-milled grains, and three charming hotel rooms hosted in our adjacent Queen-Anne style miller's house.”

The cafe offers soups, salads, sandwiches, and a brunch on Sundays.Situated in the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Glen Arbor, The Mill is “an inspired destination reimagined to provide a reprieve from the day-to-day hustle,” Smith says. “For our team, consciously sourcing ingredients with sustainable practices goes hand in hand with our daily practice of baking with simplicity and tradition at the forefront.”

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, the cafe’s counter menu features soups, salads, sandwiches, and a brunch on Sundays runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Wine, beer and cocktails are available. The bakery, open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, features house-milled grains, sourced in small batches to ensure that flours are fresh and flavorful. Products include cornmeal, and flours from soft white wheat, hard red spring wheat, rye, and emmer, an ancient wheat commonly known as farro in Europe. Also available, the mill’s own house blend for pancakes, biscuits, and scones. 

The back story: The Mill was last used for its original purpose as a grist mill by the Brammer Family in 1945, and briefly housed a recording studio in the 1970s. When The Mill changed hands in 1986, the building was used for storage until Fernhaus Studio purchased the property in 2018. 

Previous remodeling included a single-story addition where the all-day cafe is currently housed — the space that needed the most attention during renovation. The original four-wall rectangular structure, built in 1879, needed only minimal restoration outside of exterior siding and a new roof “and was very much historically intact,” Smith says. Much of the original milling equipment from 73 years prior still sits in its original location today. 

“When we first engaged with the property as a potential opportunity, we felt like there was a responsibility of the community to not let this historic building just fall over, or the roofs to cave in,” Smith says. “It is too beautiful and there are too many exciting and original details inside the building that needed to be shared. We have done our absolute best to preserve the building's rich history through adaptive reuse that the public can enjoy. “

What’s next: The hospitality that The Mill historically embodied will continue to be the focus as The Mill regains its place in the community. “There is a rhythm of hospitality that Fernhaus Studio is working hard to revive,” Smith says. “In its heyday, the mill was a central component of a happy community. The Brammer family hosted all of its customers — always having a pot of coffee on the stove and inviting customers in for cinnamon cake, muffins or homemade bread and butter.

“We will continue to build on what we are offering to our community in hopes that we will always be regarded as a space for all to enjoy.’ 

Funding: No public funds were used in the mill’s restoration, Smith says, and they will not be in the future.

What has the mill’s restoration meant to the community: “On a daily basis, we have countless guests visiting the property who share their personal joy for the work we have done here,” Smith says. “Our community is full of people who have been rooted in this location for generations. We have all watched this building slowly decay for decades, and for it to now once again serve as a community driven business makes us all feel overwhelmed with delight.”

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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