Ghosts of Main Street: From Howard’s Restaurant to the Flashback Cafe

November 25, 2019

A postcard featuring businesses at the center of Marion came out in 1957. It featured this iconic photo of the Corner Cafe, then under the ownership of Ox and Kay Wittenburg.
Archie McLeod, l, and his Grant Howard, r, builder of the Flashback Cafe. He was also postmaster at Marion, Michigan. The occasion for this photo was Grant’s birthday.
/This is an advertising postcard for the new Howard’s Restaurant at the main corner at Marion.

By Julie Traynor

The southeast corner of Main and Mill Streets (M-66) remained vacant for almost twenty-five years after the Great Fire of 1904. It saw little commercial purpose, was only used for holiday celebrations, and out-door movie viewing. A large white rectangle, painted on the side of the McLeod building served as an outdoor movie screen each summer. Patrons paid 10c and sat on benches, beginning at dusk, to view movies.

The Marion Press reported in its June 14, 1928, issue (and this date is contrary to other reports, all with the same source) that Grant Howard had begun building his new restaurant on the corner of Main and Mill (M-66) earlier in the week. Howard’s business adventure began in 1926 when he built the small redbrick Standard gas station, abutting the building of his friend, Archie McLeod (most recently The Insurance Lab).

Grant Howard built and opened his restaurant sometime between 1926 and 1928. The gas station, just a stone’s throw to the east from the café, was touted as a drive-through gas station, which apparently was a big draw. So was the café, which soon added a new kitchen, just to the south, to make way for more tables and counter space. It remained so for more than 50 years, including the entrance at the corner of the building.

Grant Howard leased the business to several different individuals before selling the property to Frank White in 1933. White continued to lease the property, to among others, the Howard Rebers, Raymond Budds and Gil Lithens. White eventually sold to Alton and Kay Wittenburg in 1952. By 1960 the Wittenburgs purchased the property at First and Mill from previous owner, Joe Gillmore, and in conjunction with Dr. Youngman, Dox Motel was constructed along the river.

The Wittenburg’s sold both café, Standard station property and Dox Motel to Max and Norma Pifer in 1976. They used the former Standard station drive to add a new entrance and a dining room large enough for a salad bar and restrooms and changed the 6-room motel to Pifer’s Motel. They also constructed a footbridge across the river to parking and the restaurant on the other side.

In 1986 Wanda Bronkema became the owner of Bronk’s and later named Wanda’s Place; a Marion favorite and coffee stop for the next 20 years. Tim and Pam Thompson Dayle have been the very successful proprietors of the Flashback Café since, only recently selling to Andrew and Mindy Faulman.

Beneath the grey vinyl siding, applied more years ago than we all like to acknowledge, is the original red brick façade, and the corner entrance. Should you look for it from the inside, you will find a broom closet. Also gone are the white glass-marble lunch counter, built-in wooden booths and the pay telephone booth just outside the corner door. Through all these years the good home cooking has always never disappeared from the kitchen on the corner. That is why their doors have never closed.
Good cooking has kept the little restaurant on the corner open continuously for roughly the past 91 years. We don’t see that changing anytime soon. We wish much success to Andrew and Mindy.

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