2017-11-09 / Front Page

Wendy’s Runway Bar Earns Award

By Erich T. Doerr


Wendy’s Runway Bar, also known as Wendi’s, was named by the Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce as 2017 Business of the Year. Owner Wendy Smith is pictured with her award and her husband, Dave. The bar was recognized for contributions that include hosting annual free Thanksgiving and Christmas potluck dinners. Wendy’s Runway Bar, also known as Wendi’s, was named by the Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce as 2017 Business of the Year. Owner Wendy Smith is pictured with her award and her husband, Dave. The bar was recognized for contributions that include hosting annual free Thanksgiving and Christmas potluck dinners. The Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce honored Wendy’s Runway Bar in Hessel as Business of the Year, in recognition of its years of service to the community, during the organization’s Wednesday, November 1, annual banquet.

Owner Wendy Smith told The St. Ignace News she enjoys the excitement and interaction with people that come from running her business.

“It’s great to belong to this community and wonderful to be honored,” Mrs. Smith said. “I did not know (this honor) was coming.”

Mrs. Smith said she had never won an award like this. Getting her to come to the dinner to receive it required a little white lie: her sister, Staci Fountain, claimed said she would be winning an award and wanted Mrs. Smith there for moral support. Mrs. Smith had no idea she was the one to be honored until she was called up during the awards ceremony.


Greg Wagner, master of ceremonies for the banquet, used props to accompany his description of an ideal community, mixing contents representing Les Cheneaux’s attributes in a large, glass container. The golf balls represent businesses, schools, and churches; the pebbles its residents; the sand he is pouring its guests and tourists. He added water mixture to represent natural resources, and left off the lid to show the area is always open for more. Greg Wagner, master of ceremonies for the banquet, used props to accompany his description of an ideal community, mixing contents representing Les Cheneaux’s attributes in a large, glass container. The golf balls represent businesses, schools, and churches; the pebbles its residents; the sand he is pouring its guests and tourists. He added water mixture to represent natural resources, and left off the lid to show the area is always open for more. Chamber Director Pat Schuster and Treasurer June Patton, who presented the award, said there were many deserving nominees this year.

Mrs. Smith has owned Wendy’s Runway Bar, alternatively known as Wendi’s Runway Bar, since 1984. She remodeled the structure in 1994. Before she owned it, the business belonged to her parents, the late Bill and Elaine Fountain, who bought it in 1959 and ran it for the next quarter century. Mrs. Smith bought the bar from Mrs. Fountain following her father’s passing.

Mr. Fountain, who was from Pickford, went downstate to find work, marrying Elaine, who lived in Clarkston, while there. They moved home to buy the Runway Bar when it came up for sale, just after the closing of the foundry where Mr. Fountain had worked.

The bar, which dates back at least two more decades, started as Taylor’s Runway Bar. It’s about a mile from Hessel’s Albert J. Lindberg Airport, but Mrs. Smith said that proximity isn’t the reason for its name. That comes from a joke related to a deer run: hunters, back in the day, would tell their wives they were going to the runway, she said, so the bar was given the name to “keep them honest.”

Runway Bar is known in the Les Cheneaux community for hosting a pair of free holiday potluck dinners, on Thanksgiving and Christmas, for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to go or might have to spend the day alone. The bar provides main dishes such as turkey, ham, potatoes, and gravy, but people with the means to are welcome to bring additional dishes. Guests in the past have brought everything from pies to stuffing, fried mushrooms. The Thanksgiving dinner is a favorite of hunters in the area. The Christmas dinner includes a few activities, such as bingo.

“We want to make them days where people don’t have to be home alone if they don’t want to be,” Mrs. Smith said. “It’s work, but it’s fun work.”

Runway Bar is famously decorated for almost every holiday and festival in the Les Cheneaux area. Ms. Fountain handles that, putting up a huge Christmas tree together with other decorative touches.

Mrs. Smith said her favorite aspects of the business are the people with whom she gets to spend time and the friendly atmosphere. Almost raised right along many of those who frequent her bar, she said it is great to live in a community like this one.

The bar has hosted community events, benefits, even a few funerals. It has played host to wedding parties and, of late, a few divorce parties as that trend began to take off. Other events include winter fish fries featuring locally-caught fish and a Hessel Antique Wooden Boat Show weekend backyard bonfire and dinner.

“That’s really fun,” Mrs. Smith said.

The Business of the Year award comes at a time of transition for Runway

Bar. Mrs. Smith said she is looking to retire soon and has put the business up for sale. That will be a bittersweet change. The business is filled with fond family memories: her very first job was filling the business’ pop coolers when she was a child.

“It was a job, but this was my home,” Mrs. Smith said. “I was raised here. I’ve been here since I was five years old.”

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