Solberg’s: Longtime landmark Felch supper club has new owners

Business showcase

ROBERT SMITH RECENTLY took ownership of Solberg’s Bar and Grill supper club in Felch. The 114-year-old business previously had been owned by Dewey Solberg, the third generation of the family to operate Solberg’s. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

FELCH TOWNSHIP — Ownership might have changed, but the name and menu will remain the same at Solberg’s Bar and Grill in Felch.

Robert Smith, who grew up on Felch Mountain, officially took title of the popular supper club in northern Dickinson County about two weeks ago, after finally securing a liquor license.

But he’s been overseeing the business for months, learning how to run a restaurant after having no past experience with the food service.

“I kind of had to jump in head-first,” Smith said.

It marks the first time in the business’s 114-year history that a Solberg is not involved in Solberg’s. Former owner Dewey Solberg said his grandfather opened the bar in 1905 and kept it going as a pool hall through Prohibition, eventually seeing it be passed along to his son.

THE BAR AREA at Solberg’s Bar and Grill in Felch. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

After graduating from Michigan State University, Solberg came back in 1973 intending to help get the business ready for sale so his parents could retire. Instead, he decided to keep the bar in the family and add the dining room in 1976.

“It’s almost like you take in a stray dog, you’re not going to keep it, and then you have the dog for 15 years,” he said of staying with Solberg’s in Felch.

Over the decades, Solberg’s became known for its specials — wings night on Mondays, ribeye Wednesdays and, its busiest night, the Friday fish fry. It also was just close enough to neighboring communities to be reachable but far enough away to make for a pleasant evening drive for dinner, Solberg said.

But Solberg, now 71, said the change has been coming since he purchased the Greenleaf restaurant in Iron Mountain in 2013.

Trying to cover two businesses 25 miles apart worked for awhile, he said, but giving the Felch business up — even with the family history — “was an easy call. The timing was right.”

A North Dickinson County High School graduate, Smith was a longtime patron of Solberg’s but made his living felling timber with a chain saw for 30 years, this past decade as an independent logger handling the trees too large for the mechanical harvesters.

“I just go around,” he said, “cutting the big trees.”

When he heard Solberg was looking to sell the business, Smith saw it as an opportunity to step away from logging, especially after injuring his shoulder last spring.

His wife, Dana, also was supposed to be a major part of the business, but as they worked to close the sale, she got a job offer she could not refuse as administrator of the Lighthouse at Ishpeming Health and Rehab Center nursing facility, Smith said.

It’s been a sharp learning curve, with late hours, Smith said. He didn’t get to go home early Saturday until 4 a.m., even though it’s technically a slow period.

While he’s tired, Smith said for now he’s enjoying the ride. “I like the people. I like people,” he said.

If the Nordic Trading Post is the place to start the day in Felch Township, Solberg’s is where people go as the day draws to a close. On certain weekends, ATV and snowmobile drivers can show up in such numbers that the apartments across Calumet Mine Road has a sign asking they park elsewhere.

They have 17 employees — bartenders, cooks, waitresses and dishwashers. One has been there, waiting tables, for 40 years, another for 30 years.

That means they often know customers’ preferences well in advance. “You get that personal touch,” Smith said.

He has a daughter, 16-year-old Briana Smith, as a dishwasher at the business. She juggles that with being in North Dickinson County High School basketball — she was on the All-U.P. Girls Basketball second team — and track.

While timber was hard work, Smith said food service has not exactly been a step back. But having that logging background did prepare him for the rigors of running a restaurant. He still does some timber cutting on weekends, during downtime.

“I hope I have enough energy to do this,” Smith said, adding, “I’m getting there … just trying to get everything set.”

Solberg is confident Smith has the staff and menu to keep Solberg’s a success, even in a small township.

“The ball’s in his court now,” Solberg said. “I think he’s got the tools to keep it going.”

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