Projects worth $7M underway in Munising

The Sam Marks Building, located along Elm Avenue in Munising, is currently under construction. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MUNISING — Roughly 42 miles east of Marquette is a little city nestled along Lake Superior shoreline where big things are happening.

Spearheading an estimated $7 million project, Munising native Tom Dolaskie and his partner, Darrin Hubbard, owner of Deployed Technologies, or D-Tech, are currently in the process of transforming the historic Sam Marks building along Elm Avenue into an ice cream parlor, to be called Scooped Up, as well as a retail clothing store that will offer popular local brands such as Roam and Yooper Shirts, and a restaurant and speakeasy bar called Whisky Tom’s.

The focus of the speakeasy, Dolaskie said, is to add a social hub to the downtown area that gives people somewhere to hangout for an extended social experience.

“It’s a space that’s going to be uniquely curated to appeal to multiple different genres,” he said. “We’ll still have our focus on locally sourced food wherever possible, but the presentation will be very classic, the service will be very good, but it will be quick, extremely affordable and will not be in any shape or form stuffy, or feel like a special-event type restaurant. It’s just a very classic, comfortable neighborhood hangout restaurant — the Cheers of Munising with a little more going on.”

The partners also bought the old Cox Building that was recently torn down, with plans to convert the property into a free parking lot and a home for Tacopotamus, their new taco truck that will serve authentic Mexican food.

Construction is underway at the Sam Marks Building in Munising. (Courtesy photo by Tom Dolaskie)

That’s not all, though.

Dolaskie and Hubbard purchased Munising’s old fire hall, where Dolaskie envisions a “flea market where around 50 vendors could set up.” They also closed on a deal May 1, buying the Navigator restaurant — which will soon be “Eh! burger,” a unique burger and fish joint with “really good but quick food.”

“This isn’t going to be something perceived as a price gouging tourist business … It will also focus on local affordability. A place where people can catch a reasonably priced lunch,” Dolaskie said. “Our No. 1 concern is getting Eh! burger open. It’s basically turnkey with some general updates and facade improvements.”

Dolaskie said Corporate Executive Chef Jason Biega — who was hired to launch another of Dolaskie and Hubbard’s developments, a restaurant named Tracey’s — is curating the menus for all of the upcoming establishments.

Eh! burger, Scooped Up, the Roam retail store and Tacopotamus will open in June, and Whisky Tom’s will open by fall.

In 2016, Dolaskie and Hubbard met in Florida where Dolaskie lived while serving in the Air Force. Interested in a career change, Dolaskie started working for Hubbard, later becoming the COO of D-Tech, a company that specializes in installing technology into luxury hotels around the world.

After several moves across country, Dolaskie moved back to Munising to be near family after his mom’s terminal illness took a turn for the worse.

As D-Tech continued to grow, an office in Munising near Dairy Queen opened in February 2014. Afterward, Dolaskie and Hubbard bought Hillside Party Store in June 2015; built Roam Inn, a hotel that opened in September 2016; and opened Tracey’s in February 2017, which was listed as the best new restaurant in the state of Michigan by a Yelp data poll.

The second floor of the Sam Marks building was converted into offices last year for D-Tech.

“We found a lot of history when we tore the building apart — original business cards from 1906, original mannequins and displays from the very first dry goods, hat and clothing store,” Dolaskie said, adding that some of the pieces of history will be displayed at Roam’s retail space.

Even though it’s been a challenge to develop in the area, Dolaskie said Munising is full of potential.

“It hasn’t been easy at all. It’s been far more difficult than we ever thought it would be. The question has been asked — would we ever do it again? It’s a very hard question to answer,” Dolaskie said. “So much good has come from it. So many good jobs. Ten families have moved to Munising and their kids are in the school system, but the cost to realize that is almost impossible to define. But it’s a sense of service and passion to make sure Munising sees growth and sees a future and realizes its potential as a community.”

As one of the gateways to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Hiawatha National Forest, the city of Munising’s natural resources have become the predominant force driving the local economy through increased tourism and recreational opportunities.

According to a recent National Park Service report, nearly 800,000 people visited the lakeshore last year and spent approximately $33 million at gateway regions. Around 2,500 people live in the Munising area.

“The area has been steadily growing in the last five year years,” said Kathy Reynolds, executive director of the Alger County Chamber of Commerce. “Most of our small business growth is local investors, which is always good to see. We’re looking forward to seeing storefronts, some that were previously vacant, open for business.”