Faces In the Crowd:Mike and Lee Juillet

June 13, 2019

By Aaron Michell

A little over a year ago, Mike and Lee Juillet decided to make the move to the Osceola/Clare County area and take over the Buckhorn Saloon.
And after a brief adjustment period, the couple is very happy with their decision.
As co-owners of the saloon [along with another couple], Mike and Lee have made this area their home. With a little help from regulars, and co-workers, and new-found friends, the Juillet’s are loving their new restaurant, and their new life.
While the saloon takes up a good chunk of energy, the couple still finds time to enjoy their new digs: kayaking, canoeing, and enjoying all the outdoor opportunities that the area presents.
We caught up with Mike and Lee recently where they filled us in on what they’re all about. We learned that not only does Mike know how to make some delicious jalapeno poppers and crab rangoons, but he’s been involved in the music and movie industry for a number of years. We learned that while Lee has lived in much bigger cities and in different states, she knows the importance of surrounding yourself with good people no matter where you are.
Good people like Trevor, Ann, Stacy, Tiffany, Jordan, Cassie, Heather, Travis, Dylan, and Dee – the team at Buckhorn Saloon. Or as Lee says: The family.
We learned a lot about the Juillet’s in our brief conversation. Most importantly we learned that these two are more than just a couple of faces in the crowd.

Mike and Lee Juillet

Marion Press: What are your roles here at the Buckhorn?
Mike: We oversee everything. From ordering to scheduling, to hiring; she bartends at night, and I cook day and night, most of the time.

MP: How long have you been here? You’re co-owners and managers of the Buckhorn – how’d that come about?
Mike: We were actually in the process of purchasing a bar up north
in Cheboygan, and that fell through. But at the time, we had two great customers who kind of took us under their wing [to help purchase a bar].
Lee: They said, ‘Just let us know and we’d be willing to help you.’
Mike: Him and his wife are great people. We asked for help with the building up there, and he came in and kind of took it over. But he couldn’t get anything to move with the [seller] and he knew it was kind of a bum deal from us. He said, don’t worry, we’ll find a bar. They wanted to own a bar, but they didn’t want to run it. And they’ve seen how we were with a place that wasn’t ours, so they knew we’d do good with a place that was ours.

MP: How’d you find the Buckhorn?
Mike: He’s a local to the area. He does a lot of traveling, and he just happened to be driving through as [the past owner] was putting a for sale sign out front. He pulled in, and here we are.

MP: What brings people into the Buckhorn?
Lee: The Pizza. Have you had it?

MP: Not since the new owners have taken over!
Mike: We bought the recipe, but we did make some changes to the toppings – it’s all fresh toppings now. The cheese is still graded here; the dough is made fresh daily here. We added pizza stones instead of them cooking on the middle shelves.

MP: Pizza stones?
Mike: Well, when you’re cooking with propane, every time you open that door you lose the heat. The pizza stones hold the heat; they crisp up the crust. That’s basically what they’re used for. I can shut the oven off at 10 o’clock at night and I’ll come in in the morning and it’s still 250 degrees in the oven. It saves on gas, and it helps with your cook time.

Shown above is the Buckhorn Saloon as it was during the 1940’s.

MP: And it’s a bar, you’ve got pool tables…
Mike: It’s really not a bar anymore, it’s more of a restaurant with a bar. At 10 o’clock, the place usually clears out – even on our busiest nights. And Fridays are pretty stupid [busy] in here – in a good way! We have a fish fry and that brings them in on Friday. We’ve updated the menu pretty extensively since the last owners were here – and it’s not bar food anymore. We’ve got a gluten free crust; we have higher end salads; oven baked subs; a lot of homemade appetizers – we make our own jalapeno poppers. We use a wanton wrap and it’s all the ingredients you’d find in a jalapeno popper plus a few extras, like bacon. We do crab rangoons – loaded with crab meat.
Lee: Onion rings are homemade, hand dipped; mushrooms. All of our sauces are homemade, excluding honey mustard and barbeque.

MP: So you have transformed the Buckhorn a little bit since you’ve taken over.
Lee: We didn’t do anything about the look of it, because people have been coming here since they were little. Everyone says: ‘I’ve been coming in here since I was this [tall].’ We cleaned up a little bit, but we tried to keep the look of it the same, and have the same feel, but we’ve changed the food.

The Buckhorn as it is today.

MP: Where are you guys from originally?
Mike: Cheboygan.
Lee: Oak Park, Lapeer, Cheboygan, Orlando, Flint, Bay City…

MP: A little bit of all over? What brought you to Michigan?
Lee: Family. My parents live here, and my parents have known his parents since they were teenagers.
Mike: Since the dinosaurs!

MP: So you moved here from Cheboygan a little over a year ago. This is kind of the middle-of-nowhere.
Mike: We picked up not knowing anybody, not having any friends or family down here. And you’re not kidding – I’m thinking moving from the small-town of Cheboygan, that we’re getting closer to a bigger city. I was thinking more Clare, Mt. Pleasant area – I didn’t realize it was the woods!
Lee: We had no idea!
Mike: In Cheboygan we had a Wal-Mart, and I hate Wal-Mart, but when you don’t have it, you miss it. I’ve never slept so much in my life the first year we were here. It was just work; no internet, I refused to pay for cable…

MP: What have been your first impressions?
Mike: It was a culture shock for me. The last bar we were at we were out in the woods also. We’ve made quite a few friends in the year that we’ve been here.
Lee: We’re at home now.

MP: What’s your favorite part of living here?
Mike: I’m a big fan of nature, and the water. I’m just amazed at just how many lakes are around here. I just would’ve never, ever guessed that there’s that much water around this area. I love being able to go down to the Old Log [Resort] and go kayaking or canoeing at will.
Lee: We’ve made friends quickly. At first it was lonely, but once we found our friends and we started getting regulars that we saw on a daily basis – and they’re happy to see you. And Heather and Michael [Loveless] will call us up and say, ‘Hey, come over for a barbeque’ on a Tuesday night, or we can just go down the river with them. There’s things to do, even though you’re in the middle of nowhere, and it generally doesn’t cost very much to go do it.
Mike: We’ve saved a lot of money!
Lee: And it’s not like a lot of small-towns, where if there’s nothing to do you go out drinking; it’s activities – even if it’s having a bonfire. These are things I’ve never done. We never just had a bonfire – I know to everybody else, it’s the normal life, but I didn’t grow up doing that.

MP: What is your favorite part of running the Buckhorn?
Mike: I love meeting new people, and I love cooking. When I get sick of cooking, I come out and bartend. And when I get sick of that, I go back in the kitchen. I’m one of the fortunate ones who gets to mix it up. We’ve done this for so long for someone else, and to now have a place that’s yours and be able to do it – not only to make suggestions, but follow through with them – it’s rewarding.
Lee: And our regulars are now family. We have our Thanksgiving dinner here.
Mike: And we invite those who don’t have anywhere to go. And if we have four random cars pull in – they’ll say, ‘Oh we just stopped in for a drink.’ Well, if you’re gonna have a drink, you’re gonna have a plate of food – because we don’t have a fridge big enough for all these leftovers.
Lee: Our co-workers, they pretty much all stop in and visit, and eat with us.

MP: And you have a team here at the Buckhorn.
Lee: It’s a family. We’re a family. We fight like family, and we care about each other like family.

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