Harold Lyons is joined by his family as he proudly displays his Citizen of the Year award from the Irish Hills Regional Chamber of Commerce. Harold is the owner of Harold’s Place and Club 223.
Photo courtesy of April Messer Photography
by John Hummer
Harold Lyons, who opened Harold’s Place on the corner of U.S. 12 and Onsted Highway in October of 1978, was named the Irish Hills Regional Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for 2022. The award was presented last Thursday at the Chamber’s Community Awards at Clark Lake Golf Course.
As his award speech read, “Little did Harold know that his love for the beauty of that corner lot on U.S. 12 would turn into a 44-year, life-long investment full of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, family sacrifices, equipment breakdowns, construction projects, life-long memories, a community gathering place, and so much more!”
It all began when, as a youngster, Harold and his family traveled through the Irish Hills on their way to visit his grandmother in Montpelier, Ohio, and family in Cadmus, Mich. Because his family resided in Lincoln Park in the Downriver Detroit area, he fell in love with the beauty of the lakes, the rolling hills, the farmland, and the pure natural environment of the Irish Hills. After graduating from high school in 1958, he went to work in a steel mill and then for the railroad. He liked the fact that he could drive to what he refers to as “God’s Country” to escape the hustle and bustle of the city in just over an hour. He always appreciated the peace and tranquility of the Irish Hills and has called this area “home” for as long as he can remember.
In 1969, he married his then-wife, Lois, and later that year they bought a cabin on Wolf Lake in the Irish Hills. He always had his eye on the property on the corner of U.S. 12 and Onsted Highway, which housed D&M Grill, formerly Christy’s. In 1978, D&M went up for sale and Harold and Lois bought it strictly as an investment. Now 82, at the time he was 38 years old, working seven days a week for a railroad company in Detroit, and had three kids to raise. He had no idea how to run and operate a restaurant – he just liked the property. He eventually put some ads out to recruit help and find someone who had experience doing day-to-day operations of a restaurant. He received about 12 applications and one who knew a little bit about managing. His dream grew from there. (more below)
Harold and his wife, Marie, also own and operate Club 223 – on U.S. 223 between Addison and Adrian. In the early 2000s, he stumbled upon what was then a falling down building, formerly the old Cheese House. He had a vision of what he could turn it into, so he decided to buy it. After completely gutting it and putting his self-taught restaurant design skills to work, he and Marie opened Club 223 in 2012.
Over the years, Harold dabbled with buying a few other old and falling down restaurants, fixing them up, and opening them to serve the community. In the early 1980s, he bought a corner building in downtown Onsted and opened the Main Street Station. He eventually sold it. In the late 1990s, he stumbled across another building that needed some work in Manitou Beach, formerly known as the Timbers. After two years of working on it, he opened the Lyons Tavern. He and Marie made some good memories serving the lake communities of Devils and Round lakes and were actively involved in helping with the Tip-Up Festival. He sold the tavern 10 years later.
Because of his love for the history of the Irish Hills, Harold has always wanted to keep the area looking nice and welcoming to both locals and tourists. He can look at something that is old and run down, and within a short time, can draw up in his mind what he could do with a building to help make it look better. He takes much pride in remodeling, fixing up, and opening businesses with the hope of keeping the Irish Hills great.
Harold has always been more of a “behind the scenes” guy, but he knows he would not be where he is today without the help of all of his faithful and loyal family and work staff. He is especially proud that all three of his children have helped him at one or all of his business ventures in some way or another over the years. (more below)
Harold takes much pride in knowing that his community has a place to come in and enjoy a meal and that his employees have a place to come earn a living, help put themselves through school, or supplement their income. It brings him joy to know that he may have helped someone turn their life around and get back on track. He gets the most joy out of the relationships he has built with his employees over the years. Harold has had several long-time employees stick by his side for years at a time to help keep his businesses thriving. His employees are like family to him.
Harold thrives most on serving the public darn good food. He always greets his patrons with a smile and is most grateful for their continued support over the years. He has always supported local law enforcement, compensating meals when they’re on duty.
He is always the first to contribute to the Onsted Kiwanis Club, Onsted Schools, Devils Lake Men’s Club, the American Legion, the Irish Hills Chamber, local art fairs and farmers’ markets, and much more. He served on the Onsted Planning Commission and is a life-long member of the Shriners. He has always opened his doors at his restaurants to anyone wanting to host a fundraiser and has spent several years catering to local events as well. This is the guy willing to give to anyone brave enough to just simply ask, the guy who feeds the homeless burgers and fries or takes a turkey to neighbors who are home alone for the holidays.
Harold has spent the majority of his 82 years of life here in the Irish Hills going about his business and just doing what he feels is best for his community. He cherishes the friendships and acquaintances that he has made over the years by being in business. His restaurants are his life!
His daughter, Tanya, says it brings her such great joy to know that her dad is being recognized for this award after so many years. Congratulations to this year’s Citizen of the Year, Harold Lyons.