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The Sidetrack Cafe II celebrates 35 years; 315 N. Main: A building that has stood the test of time

At some point, most of us have heard someone say, “if these walls could talk…” This phrase is often said when people are referring to a historic building, an old house. Yet, it could honestly be said about any structure that had a past life. Any place that has a story that could answer the “who, what, when, where, and why” questions of its past can offer a tail to anyone that’s willing to sit for a spell and listen. This is the case of 315 N. Main Street in Watervliet, which is now the home of The Sidetrack Cafe II for 35 years.

In honor of this great milestone anniversary, the Tri-City Record has taken a trip back in time to tell about the life this building has had. A two-part story will run alongside the cafe’s anniversary celebration with specials that take place the month of March.

The beginning

According to what was found during research, the building was split in half initially. The right side of the building was Smith’s Ice Cream Parlor. It had the reputation of being one of the finest served ice creams in the country and it was made right here in Watervliet by F. F. Smith and his son, Frank.

The Smith Family came to Watervliet from Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1892 when Mr. Smith was the

HANGING ON THE WALL... currently inside the Sidetrack II Cafe is this photo dated on the back 1947. The people in the picture are not identified.

superintendent of construction for the Syms & Dudley Paper Mill where he was kept on as a millwright until 1901. In 1903 he bought the ice cream factory belonging to the Carmody brothers.

From the 1920s to the 1970s it seems the structure housed many different types of businesses. Research revealed it was Monroe’s Nu-Way Shop, a sewing shop, a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, and even the home of the local Justice of the Peace in addition to the food industry. Perhaps there could be some hidden history not discovered.

Just imagine the conversations from shotgun weddings to the reasons and rationales on why someone was getting a specific tattoo.

Life as a restaurant

In the 1920s the building welcomed a restaurant. It was announced in March 1929 through the Watervliet Record of the opening of “The Midget Lunch Room,” formerly known as the “Bob Inn.” The business was owned by Howard Stineman.

The restaurant business was then purchased by Lawrence Dunham, who was nicknamed E. Z.

In January 1930, E. Z. worked for Charles and Harriet Abbott at the Hartford restaurant also called The Midget Lunch. By July of that same year he bought the Watervliet location of the restaurant, also named The Midget Lunch. He was soon joined by his brother, James R. “Jimmy” Dunham, and the place quickly became a hot spot, particularly of the younger generation as a burger joint. E. Z. sold his interest in the lunch room to Jimmy in 1939 to become a restaurateur in Howell, Michigan.

Jimmy announced the sale of The Midget, as it affectionately was called, to George Pflefer, around 1943. Pflefer continued to operate this well-known eating establishment. At some point he sold out as well.

Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Jones, from La Porte, Indiana, acquired the property in 1947, from a Kalamazoo man named Eugene Stevenson. Mr. and Mrs. Jones did some extensive remodeling in 1951. Mr. Jones passed away and Mrs. Jones sold the business two years later.

In 1954 Mr. and Mrs. Michael Spadafore bought the business. At the time they also owned Panther Grill. They as well, did not own the building for long.

The Midget Lunch, formerly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pflugradt, was then sold to Mr. and Mrs. Garland Graham of Berrien Springs. Then records show Billy Latham owned the restaurant for 15 years, bringing us to 1980s.

Darlene and Don Horton owned and operated D & D Grill, in Watervliet at the location, in the mid-80s. Don was known as the dishwasher emeritus and entertainment director, while his wife was known for her cooking and baking.

Though the restaurant has changed hands many times through the years, one thing that remains is that it has the same popularity it did so many years ago.

From ice cream to weddings, from tattoos to tickets; oh the stories those walls hold, stories of times gone by.

Birth of the Sidetrack Cafe

Yet, the story of 315 N. Main, Watervliet lives on in the Sidetrack Cafe. Part two of the story will be in future March issues of the Tri-City Record, where the story of the family who has owned and operated The Sidetrack Cafe and The Sidetrack Cafe II for the last 35 years can be read.

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