DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP — A historic landmark for local dining is coming back to life.
The 133-year-old Clifford Lake Inn abruptly closed in November 2013. Connie McKeown, who had owned the business since 2010, declined to say why.
Almost a year after shuttering, the inn has found new owners, with new plans.
Stu-it Investments LLC of Grand Rapids purchased the property from McKeown in mid-September, according to the Montcalm County Register of Deeds Office.
Stu-it Investments is comprised of Thomas and Mary Stuit of Grand Rapids. They are a soon-to-be-retired couple who have spent the past four decades helping build and grow a successful insurance agency in West Michigan.
“We were looking for a new challenge in our semi-retirement,” Thomas Stuit said. “The Inn is a match for our interest in historical preservation, community and business. We enjoy being active, we enjoy people and we enjoy watching associates grow.”
The Inn has a long and colorful history. According to Daily News archives, the Inn was built in 1881 in what was formerly known as the town of Richard’s Point, which later became known as Clifford Lake.
In 1925, Mac and Maude McConnville purchased the Inn, but in 1930 most of the building was destroyed in a fire. The Inn was rebuilt the following year, despite the ongoing Great Depression.
In 1945, Doc and Lillian Bruder bought the establishment, selling it 10 years later to Ed and Edie Welch in 1955.
The Inn changed its personality through the years — from an inn to a restaurant to a rock ’n’ roll bar. The years took a toll on the building and in 1975 it was condemned.
Real estate brokers Norman and Dyanne Eipper took note of the eight-bedroom hotel next to their summer cabin on Clifford Lake and bought the Inn in 1976. The couple restored the hotel to its historic elegance and in 1986 the state of Michigan designated the spot as an official Michigan Historic Site.
The love of the restaurant business was passed on to the Eippers’ son, Steve, who joined the operation in 1996. The Eippers retained ownership of the Inn until 2010, when Connie McKeown and her husband Larry purchased the business.
The Stuits plan to reopen the Inn next May, but first they have some plans for the much-loved landmark. They are doing their research by consulting with prior owners, as well as talking to neighbors and past guests of the Inn.
Thomas Stuit said his first investment will be in the Inn’s kitchen, installing all-new equipment so the new chefs have the best tools available. The dining areas will also be cleaned and preserved. The Stuits’ goal is to use locally sourced food as much as possible. They want the Inn to serve as a venue for banquets, parties and weddings, as well as intimate dinners and get-togethers.
“Our hopes for the Inn are to restore the atmosphere that made it a destination for those far away and a home for those close by; a place where guests can enjoy a great meal with the kids or a special night out with friends for delicious dinner in a beautiful place,” Thomas Stuit said. “We understand the challenges will be significant, but we are certainly encouraged by the many folks that have stopped by or called to express their support.”
The Stuits didn’t think they had any connections to the Clifford Lake area when they stumbled upon the real estate listing. However, they soon learned their immediate neighbor to the north was a friend that Mary had played bridge with for the past 35 years. Another neighbor to the south was an associate of Thomas at his current business.
The Stuits took these pleasant discoveries as good signs for their new family venture.