SHOP TALK: Jon's Country Burgers offers look at 1957 Mount Pleasant
For 62 years, Jon’s Country Burgers has offered a little bit of everything to the Mount Pleasant community from its location at the corner of South Mission and Bellows Street.
The menu is an assortment of almost anything someone would want for lunch or dinner. There is a variety of burgers and sandwiches, including the Country Burger — two patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles and salad dressing. There’s fish and chips, chili, shrimp, wraps, ice cream, shakes, floats and more, all coming in several varieties.
Since it has been open, not much about the restaurant has changed. It still functions as a drive-in and all the microphones work. The interior has been rearranged, but nothing too major.
A fire in 2000 required some renovations and repairs be made. The menu remains unchanged, although the restaurant no longer serves breakfast.
The restaurant has captured a slice of 1950s history. It has windows that go from nearly the floor to the ceiling surround the front of the building and a neon sign as tall as the building invites customers. There is a visible dip in the ceiling, not from age but from the angular architecture of the roof.
Meanwhile, the world around Jon’s Country Burgers has rapidly evolved. When John Spiris built the restaurant in 1957, many asked him why he had built it so far away from town. Now, its location is in one of the busiest areas in Mount Pleasant.
Spiris was inspired to build the restaurant based on similar eateries he had seen in California, where he was stationed as a U.S Marine. Spiris named the diner after his son Jon, who was two years old when it was built.
Jon would eventually take over the business from his father in 1977. He's been running it ever since. It’s open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
The only thing Jon regrets about working at the restaurant is the long hours. He recalled times when he was younger and wished he could've joined his friends cruising down Mission Street.
After that, he recalled when his neighbors would pass by and wave through the tall windows on their way to the lake while he worked. Most of all, he said he fears his kids might look back and think they didn’t do much.
“That’s the life you choose,” Jon said. “Especially when you’re younger, you don’t see that coming.”
More often than not, Jon can be found at the restaurant helping in the kitchen. During winter months, passersby can see Jon shoveling the sidewalk.
Lake Orion junior Matthew Aiello has seen Jon shoveling snow on more than one occasion.
“It’s cool to see a guy who takes pride in his business,” Aiello said. "He cares about that place sticking around."
Aiello first heard about Jon’s Country Burgers from his mother, who ate there when she attended Central Michigan University years ago. She recommended it to him.
“I think it’s a staple of what Mount Pleasant is,” he said. “Being in there, you can feel the history. It’s an old-style restaurant in a different era.”
Sarah Droster has been waitressing at Jon’s for 10 years. She said they get a lot of regular customers and sometimes she’ll know what someone is going to order as soon as they walk in the door. Some customers have been coming regularly since 1957, she said.
Droster said the waitstaff is like a family, and Jon is like a second father to her. When Droster describes Jon, one thing immediately comes to mind — hard work.
“You would never be surprised to see him on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor,” she said. “He takes pride in his restaurant being clean.”
Jon attributes his work ethic to his father.
“My father brought me up that way — keep your nose to the grindstone,” he said. “I see myself in my dad and other people tell me the same thing so it must be true. Same footprints.”
At 64 years old, Jon is thinking about retirement. Once he’s done, Jon’s Country Burgers will be done too, he said. His children aren’t interested in taking over the business and he doesn’t trust it to anyone else.
He knows he’d like to retire, but thinking about what he’d like to do while retired gives him pause. All he knows is that he’d like to travel and otherwise stay busy.
“I just had a brother pass away unexpectedly last week,” Jon said. “You can’t worry about something like that happening, but I want to do something before something like that happens.”