August 20th, 2002, small midwestern restaurant chain Bill Knapp’s announced it was closing.
Last week, while in Ann Arbor, I took my Dad shopping at Kroger’s as is our habit. In the bakery aisle, a familiar logo: Bill Knapp’s
These weren’t from a REAL Bill Knapp’s restaurant. The box says, “distributed by Thaw and Sell Solutions, Ltd.” out of Saline, MI.
(for non-Michigander’s, that’s pronounced “sah-LEEN”)
From 1948 to 2002, Bill Knapp’s was an institution in Michigan and Ohio, plus some outposts in Florida (perfect for sentimental snowbirds). The food was good, the help, helpful.
The Kroger’s that I bought these dunkers from is just a quarter mile away from the Bill Knapp’s location that was my family’s frequent haunt when I was younger.
In 2000 or 2001, I remember coming to Ann Arbor after my Dad was recovering from emergency surgery. After visiting him at St Joe’s, my Mom and I went to the nearby Bill Knapp’s at Carpenter and Washtenaw. We sat down, ordered and while we were waiting, a part of the suspended ceiling fell in, leaving dust and insulation scatter around the dining area, and us. We laughed it off and left (and went to Big Boy’s).
That ceiling wasn’t the only thing falling in on Bill Knapp’s. A year or so later, the chain was closed.
August 20, 2002, the letter they sent out was simple. They couldn’t make it. They were closing.
From that perspective, I’ve pondered whether Bill Knapp’s might have weathered the initial downturn in the late 90’s better if it hadn’t tried so hard to “update” their interiors and menu in the late 90’s. While they wrestled with a changing market and an aging customer base, today’s rediscovered yearning for scratch-made comfort food might have made for a return to success.
Or maybe not. Nothing lasts forever.
But we have the brand echoes of donuts and cake and, for some of us, mostly good memories.