When Clyde J. VanDusen opened Clyde’s Drive-In Soo on June 25, 1949, he could not have anticipated it would remain in the family 73 years later.
VanDusen’s daughter, Linda Jesionowski, currently manages the carhop style diner with her husband, John. They only recently left the Chicago area to take things over last May, a decision made following a VanDusen family trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.
“We were having a meeting to decide what we were gonna do,” Jesionowski said about the popular drive-in. “We didn't have any idea what it was worth because we didn't have a set of books. Around mid-January, John said, ‘I’m retired and you've been home for the past couple years; why don't we run it?’ I thought he was crazy, but started to think about it.”
Rather than closing after 72 consecutive years of business, the couple took over, knowing it was what VanDusen would have wanted.
“My dad worked for the Sugar Island Ferry when he was 18 to 19-years-old, right out of high school,” Jesionowski explained.
But it turned out working for someone else was not his thing.
“So, he decided to go into business for himself," she continued. "He put a little shack out here in 1949. He ran that for about 12 years. Then, he built this building in 1961. It has been here ever since.”
VanDusen passed away at the age of 90 on Friday, August 2, 2019 at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey.
He was born to Anthony and Florestine (Piche) VanDusen in Sault Ste. Marie on July 25, 1929. He graduated from Sault Area High School in 1947 and married his first wife, Elsie, nearly two years later. They had five children together, but the marriage did not work.
VanDusen remarried to Jesionowski’s mother, the late Patricia Kasper on Feb. 17, 1965. They had a total of four children together.
VanDusen worked hard to care for his wife and children.
“I think he would come here at 6 a.m. and stay until 2 a.m. or something like that,” said Jesionowski. “He barely got any sleep.”
Apart from the Sault location, VanDusen also opened outdoor diners in Manistique, St. Ignace, and Rudyard.
In a Clyde’s Drive-In Soo Facebook post published on Wednesday, June 29, his family wrote:
“The nine sons and daughters of Clyde VanDusen aren’t just owners, but proudly have over a century of experience at their family restaurants. This doesn’t include picking up trash in the parking lot as 7 year olds! And when Clyde’s great-nephew Bob Spencer recently retired, Clyde’s daughter Linda (an 11-year Clyde’s veteran) stepped in when the restaurant was at risk of missing the 2022 season. Family-owned, Family-proud, and Family-strong has always been the Clyde’s Drive-In way!”
“The Big C (Clyde) Burger” is made with 100% fresh beef and still very much alive seven decades later. Among popular menu items is the sloppy joe and/or pizza burger with a side of crispy onion rings.
“We heard there's a shake shortage here,” Jesionowski said. “We’re stocked up. We have not run out of shake mix yet. On Tuesday, we had more shake orders than I've seen yet.”
Customers can choose from vanilla, chocolate, strawberry raspberry and orange shake mix flavors.
Relative, Bob Spencer, ran the Sault location for approximately 20 years. He left it to the rest of his family in 2021.
“The plan is to come up here for the next year and then possibly for the third year,” Jesionowski said.
Who knows what could happen? The Jesionowski’s have certainly enjoyed their time away from big city living, near the Soo Locks and Sugar Island Ferry.
“I love the water,” Jesionowski said. “I love being by the water. I love Rotary park. I love that the Rotary Club did something with it.”
Jesionowski would like to get more involved in the community one day. For now, she is busy running her father’s business and reacquainting herself with the area.
Following high school graduation, Jesionowski left Chippewa County for Western Michigan University. She has lived elsewhere ever since.
“I had a long time job with the FDA,” she said. “So, I've worked as a food microbiologist. For a while, my job was to inspect restaurants in serving facilities and in the food production industry. Before that, I worked in the bio-counterterrorism department.”
Needless to say, VanDusen’s daughter knows a thing or two about food safety. She ensures her staff are adequately trained in cleanliness and all proper food handling procedures.
“Right now, we have about 25 employees,” she said. “That's a large crew for here.”
The Jesionowskis mostly hire high school and college aged students to work at the diner because that’s the age group who typically applies. On an average day, employees can expect to make around $16 per hour plus tips. If job searching, the popular carhop is currently searching for you, hiring mulltiple cooks and sandwich decorators.
“We are always looking for cooks to learn how to make things 'Clyde’s way,” John VanDusen chimed in.
Clyde’s is open seven days a week this season from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Clyde’s Drive-In Soo is located at 1425 Riverside Dr., Sault Ste. Marie. Its phone number is 906-632-2581.