Date of Originca. 1971
Materialsnone, in digital format
color postcard showing the Russ' restaurant in Muskegon ca. 1971.
The following history is from Robert Swierenga's book "Holland Michigan: From Dutch Colony To Dynamic City", pages 1365-1369.
"The first restaurant chain in West Michigan was Russ’. In 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression, J. Russell “Russ” Bouws, a native of Noordeloos, Michigan, bought Doc’s Barbeque stand for $147 from Carol “Doc” Hansen, who later founded Hansen Machine Co. (chapter 12). The diner, which stood on the bend of Chicago Drive (M-21) beyond the Eighth Street Y, was only a twelve-by-sixteen-foot wooden shack,
but the strategic site on the highway to Grand Rapids was the eastern gateway to Holland.
Father John Bouws and brother Rich helped buy the truck stop, and Russ paid them off within a year. John Zoerhof, who owned the property, along with his gas station next door, leased the site to Russ for the price of two meals a day. Rich’s wife Metta helped him run the eatery for a wage of $4 a month, and his thirteen-year old brother Gordon began coming in to help wash dishes and do odd jobs.
Russ, with his father’s assistance, soon added a six-by-sixteenfoot kitchen and a six-by-six-foot bedroom, where Russ slept at night after a series of break-ins. Two years later, he added a ten-by-twelve-foot addition with twenty more seats. Outdoor “tray-service” accommodated many more customers, with carhops, mainly young women, taking orders and bringing food to cars lined up under a string of lights along the graveled highway. This was the first tray service in Holland. Russ Bouws admitted later that he “hardly knew what a hamburger looked like, and on second thought, we had only eaten one once before in our life.” He “beefed-up” the menu with “all steak hamburgers” and offered a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Hamburgers cost 10¢, beef and pork barbeque and fried ham, 15¢, and coffee, milk, or Coke, 5¢. Sales ranged from $3 to $6 a day, and by April 1935, Russ’ Place was paid for. Russ literally “lived” the business, putting in seventeen-hour days, from eight o’clock one morning until one o’clock the next morning.
After his marriage in 1940, Russ had a home built across the street from the restaurant. His wife Julia worked alongside him until the 1960s; she took the laundry home and washed and ironed the aprons, shirts, and white blouses of the staff. After school and on Saturdays, their children also helped by clearing trays and washing dishes. They raised their own beef cattle on a farm in North Holland, and all the meat, including the steaks, went into the hamburgers, making them truly “all steak.”
As the business grew after the war, the property was simply too small for all the cars and customers. So Russ in 1946 moved the building two blocks west to property he purchased at the junction of Chicago Drive and Eighth Street. Despite two more additions, in 1949 Russ felt confident enough to raze the original building and erect a distinctive restaurant with a separate kitchen and bakery, and marked with a high pylon sign (now Eastown Russ’). The bakery featured Russ’ pies and pigs-in-a-blanket (a Dutch delicacy of sausage wrapped in a crust). In 1950, as part of a coordinated move by all restaurant owners to counter sharp price hikes on provisions, Russ’ raised the price of a cup of coffee to 7¢ and a plain hamburger to 23¢."
Gift ofRuss' Restaurant