'A weekend of tears, handshakes and hugs'

Marie Havenga • Jan 23, 2018 at 10:00 AM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — After an emotional breakfast buffet on Sunday, Vic's Restaurant closed its doors to customers for the final time.

The Spring Lake Township restaurant staff told customers as they entered the door Sunday that the buffet would be the final offering for Vic’s, which has been around since the early 1960s.

Ted Fricano plans to complete the purchase of the restaurant next month. He said it will remain a restaurant with a full lunch and dinner menu. Fricano said he expects to reopen the restaurant in April or May after a renovation.

Ernest “Ernie” Victor purchased the former Robbin’s Nest Restaurant at 15281 Cleveland St. in 1962 and renamed it Vic’s Tavern. In 1983, he renamed it Vic’s Restaurant and Lounge, and moved the eatery to its current location at 14977 Cleveland St. in 1991.

Victor retired from the restaurant business in 1996. His stepson, Fred Sears, and an employee, Roger Susterich II, have operated it ever since.

Sears, Susterich and Sears’ wife, Melody, hugged customers and teared up several times as the clock ticked toward the 1 p.m. closing.

“It's been a weekend of tears, handshakes and hugs,” Fred Sears said. “This is the hardest thing I've had to do in my life.”

Melody Sears said they decided to close the doors before the sale was official because business has slowed. She learned Friday that her husband and Susterich had decided Sunday would be the restaurant's final hurrah.

“A lot of people thought we were already closed,” she said. “I just thank everyone in the community for the support through the years.”

Melody Sears said saying goodbye to the staff was like experiencing the worst “empty nest” feeling she could ever imagine.

“I'm losing all my kids (staff) in one fell swoop,” she said. “We've watched so many kids grow up here. I want all these kids to know what they meant to us.”

Fred Sears, who said Fricano approached them about purchasing Vic's several months ago, said the decision to sell was difficult, but necessary.

“This place needs a new life,” he said. “It needs new air. It needs new faces. It’s been a great ride.”

Susterich, who started as an employee 27 years ago before becoming a co-owner in 1996, has been battling cancer and enduring chemotherapy.

“He hardly missed any work,” Fred Sears said.

Susterich said they hit it off with Fricano from the start, and he trusts the restaurant and bar will be in good hands.

“We got along with Ted right from the first meeting,” Susterich said. “He loved us and we loved him.”

But that doesn't make saying goodbye to long-time customers any easier.

Roger and Dixie VanderWagen of Fruitport have been loyal Vic's customers since the restaurant first opened in 1962 down the road in what is now Music Everyday. The VanderWagens said they dined at Vic's at least twice a week, typically for burritos, Taco Tuesday and the Sunday breakfast buffet.

“I've tried burritos all over and I like theirs the best,” Roger said.

Barb and Tom Happel of Grand Haven said they will miss visiting with Fred and Melody Sears. Tom said he has been dining at Vic's since 1962.

“We'll miss the people,” Barb said. “That's the main thing.”

Larry Beld of Nunica is another half-century customer.

“I've been eating at Vic's since the early 1960s,” he said. “I can only imagine how many times I've walked through that door — at least 3-4 days a week for lunch. I'd see them (Vic's owners and employees) so much it was almost like family.”

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