Great Lakes Chili Dogs to close?

Marie Havenga • Jan 8, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Great Lakes Greek Chili Dogs & Sandwich Shop in Grand Haven may be in the twilight of its existence.

Steve Dutmers, who has owned the business for the past 32 years, said he has signed a purchase agreement with Panera Bread for his 1-acre lot at the southwest corner of Taylor Street and Beacon Boulevard.

Panera Bread has until May to exercise the agreement. If the sale goes through, Dutmers said Panera Bread would raze the corner building, relocate from its current location at 1099 S. Beacon Blvd. and construct a new building with a drive-thru window.

“There's no contract signed except a purchase agreement,” Dutmers said. “They can back out at any time. Obviously, they're dealing with the city and everything.”

Dutmers would not disclose the agreed-upon selling price.

Dutmers said he would like to sell the chili dog business concept if the building/property sale goes through, although he doesn't have a set price yet.

“I'd like to sell the concept and name to somebody and help them open up a new Great Lakes Chili Dogs,” he said. “That'd be exciting.”

Dutmers and his brother, Bill, opened the business as part of the G&L Chili Dog restaurant chain in 1987 at Grand Haven’s Chinook Pier. That was followed by five years where the Pizza & Sub Shop is presently in the strip mall behind his current building. Steve Dutmers later took over the restaurant, ended the relationship with the Muskegon-based G&L and renamed the Grand Haven location as Great Lakes Greek Chili Dogs, and moved it to the current location at 1001 S. Beacon Blvd. in 1994.

Dutmers said he has not been in contact with anyone from Panera Bread, but has only dealt with a developer who works for the company.

The general manager of the Grand Haven Panera Bread store said she didn't know anything about the potential purchase. Phone messages left at Panera's corporate offices were not returned.

Dutmers said if the deal goes through, there is much he will miss.

“I'm going to miss my staff, I'm going to miss so many family, friends, customers and friends,” he said. “I'm going to miss everyone. It's been a hell of a good run.”

Dutmers said he's loved being a part of the Grand Haven community.

“This town is so giving,” he said. “It's a welcoming community to everyone. It's not just a lake that makes this town — it's a community of people. Everyone is giving something at all times. Everyone is so generous with their time and with their money.”

Great Lakes Greek Chili Dogs currently employs 14 people. Dutmers said he's heard from other restaurant owners who would like to hire them if he sells the building and business.

“One or two would like to retire themselves,” he said.

When discussions with the Panera Bread developer began last fall, Dutmers said he was surprised, because he hadn't had any serious offers before.

“I was excited as well as in disbelief,” he explained. “There are just so many thoughts that go through your head when you're in that situation. The first thing I thought of was my staff — what's going to happen with them? They're disappointed that we may close. They've all been so gracious and thoughtful to stay and close things out if we finish. Or, I may still be open for another five or 10 years.”

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