Story by Mike Shaw | Photos by Heidi Hodges
When the psychological shaking of those catastrophes subsided, they eerily had played major roles in leaving the Coyote Roadhouse’s current family ownership intact.
“2009 wasn’t the time to sell a business (during the economic slump),” said restaurant general manager Carrie Graybill, daughter of co-owner Carol Groth.
Warren Groth, Carol’s husband and Carrie’s father, died in April 2009. Carol considered getting out, especially after another business partner, Darlene Bailey, passed away on Christmas Day that same year, leaving her as sole proprietor at an age when she wanted to throttle down in retirement, not work more.
But with the economy in such a weakened state, Carrie chose to come up north more frequently from her suburban Chicago home to help her mother. She had been doing so, mostly in the summers, since her parents and their partners bought the place in 2000.
Those helping-hand visits became more doable for Graybill following the 9/11 tragedy, which did short-term financial damage to the travel company she worked for as a host, escorting tour groups to Argentina, the Bermudas and other exotic locales.
Although she still occasionally works for the travel agency, in 2010, Graybill and her husband, Scott, a former Chicago Board of Trade employee, decided to settle in Door County permanently and cast their lot with the Coyote Roadhouse.
“That (travel industry background) certainly helps, because she’s really good with people,” Groth said of her daughter.
Groth co-owns the business with absentee Illinois partners Grant and Lori Bailey. Grant is the son of the late Howard and Darlene Bailey, the Groths’ original partners who also owned the Baileys Barn antique shop.
“They were good friends of ours,” Groth said of the Baileys. “They wanted to keep busy and not have nothing to do and really wanted their own bar. I didn’t really care either way because I wasn’t a drinker, but they liked to be out with company.”
The Groths had summered in Jacksonport before retiring to Door County. Carol formerly worked for Sears department stores and Warren owned his own manufacturing company.
The two retired couples took over about five years after the bar was renamed Coyote Roadhouse. Under various owners, it had previously been known as Krueger’s On The Kangaroo, Michalsen Resort, Pablo’s On The Ocean and Dave’s Knot Inn.
Original owner Arnold Krueger was, according to local lore, a hog farmer who ran a watering hole near what is now the seventh hole of Peninsula State Park Golf Course. He had to move the building for unknown reasons in the 1930s or ’40s, though one possible explanation is that Peninsula expanded to 18 holes in 1931 and needed more land.
The current wild-blue-yonderish name of the rustic bar/eatery, on the north end of Kangaroo Lake east of the County E causeway, gives the mistaken impression that it’s “more of a biker bar,” Groth said.
“Maybe years ago (that was true),” she said. “People are surprised to find we have full dinners and it’s not just burgers at the bar. At one point, it had more of a rough reputation, but we don’t encourage any of that.”
Quite to the contrary, the spacious west lawn overlooking the lake is a menagerie of pine lounge chairs, a volleyball net, swings, and beanbag sets for corn hole or Connect 4 contests. It all screams—come on down and bring the family!
Kayakers, canoeists and row boaters are free to come ashore and “park” on the lawn (motors are forbidden on that section of Kangaroo Lake). Ice fishermen are within walking distance of a lunch break during the freezing months.
“We want it to be a family place where people feel comfortable, like it’s their own home,” Groth said. “We enjoy the children playing outside with the games. We’re not as much a kids’ place as some others but we like having the kids around.”
Furthering that feeling is a dedication to making sure the “family” can almost always gather. Coyote Roadhouse stays open daily for as long as the sign says and, unlike most Northern Door dining establishments, doesn’t shut down in the winter.
“We don’t close just because it’s slow,” Groth said. “They might want to close the kitchen a little bit early some nights, but we’ll stay open if there’s still people waiting to be seated or they call and say they’re on the way.
“In the summertime, if there’s a long line, (the grill) could be open until 11.”
Food is (officially) served from 11 a.m. opening until 9 p.m. (weekdays) or 10 p.m. (weekends) during the summer. The kitchen closes one hour earlier, at 8 and 9, respectively, during the fall, winter and spring.
The only off days of the “offseason” are Thanksgiving and Christmas, when Coyote Roadhouse closes to give employees some deserved family time.
“When we got it, they already served food but we wanted it to be even more of a restaurant than a bar,” Groth said. “In the winter, there’s not much open every day. We wanted a place...where you didn’t have to think, “OK, it’s Tuesday. Who’s open on Tuesday?”
Speaking of Tuesday, regulars know what that day means at the Coyote Roadhouse—homemade turkey pot pie, served dine-in or carryout, with a deposit for the plate. Sometimes the Coyote has a surplus and sells the extra pies frozen.
“Turkey Tuesday,” one of the winter daily specials from Labor Day to Memorial Day, started six years ago as a Thanksgiving-type feast with all the fixings, then became turkey tetrazzini—and then hit a taste bud home run with the pies.
Banish the image of a skimpy, TV-dinner pot pie in a cheap tin plate from the grocery. These are the dimensions of a deep-dish pizza, often shared by two.
“We sell ’em on Monday already,” Groth said. “I’ll come in Monday morning to do paperwork, and the phone will start ringing. We don’t take reservations for tables, but we do for the pot pies.”
It’s the only feasible way to keep the wildly popular special going, because the smallish kitchen has capacity for making just 62 pies in a day.
Meatloaf Monday and Walleye Wednesday are other magnetic draws. The traditional Friday fish fry is untraditional by serving up grouper from the ocean depths instead of the more conventional, locally caught perch or whitefish.
It’s not a requirement that the names of the specials contain alliteration, though. “Our Thursday is Mexican night,” Graybill joked.
Year-round, diners can order homemade chili, soups and house favorites like quesadillas, ribs and the Kangareuben sandwich, named for the surrounding lake. The quesadillas are build-your-own with choices of three cheeses, mushrooms, chicken and fresh veggies.
The corned beef for the Reuben is custom-ordered from Chicago, the leanest, juiciest parts going into the sandwich and the rest made into soups.
“We go down and get it ourselves,” Graybill said. “We just love the recipe, the seasoning. Nothing around here could hold a candle to what we were used to in Chicago.”
Other standout sandwich choices include the Bleu, sprinkled with crumbled bleu cheese and mushrooms; and the Grecian Chicken, served with sautéed red onions, spinach and the Coyote’s own cucumber/feta dill sauce.
Graybill borrowed and transported some ideas from Hackney’s, a northern Illinois sit-down chain known for its ribs. She worked there during high school and college, and it’s also where she met her husband.
Coyote Roadhouse is also a stop on the Door County Trolley’s Bloody Mary & Brunch hangover-cure tours on Sunday mornings.
“I think we have a nice morning venue for it on sunny days when the sun hits the water,” Graybill said. “A.J. (Frank, the trolley owner) said they’d been up and down (Highways) 42 and 57 for tours, but never got in the middle (countryside) like we are.”
Graybill said the Coyote has a “loyal customer base and a nice following of Kangaroo Lake residents,” but couldn’t achieve that without its employee team. One of them, cook Therese “T.” Hitt, even “came with the building,” she said.
“Even if we have just 10 people for lunch, we’ll stay open because not every day is going to be like that,” Graybill said. “It offers year-round employment, though maybe some shorter hours during the winter. It’s always hard finding help up here, but being open year-round makes that (search) easier.”