Mike’s Place Café: The Dream, The Team, And Gathering Steam

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Hmmmmm, opening a restaurant in the middle of COVID when restaurants are closing — who does that? And if that’s not enough, opening a restaurant when you can cook well but have never actually run a place — who does THAT??? I’ll tell ya who — Mike and Jan Holt, owners of Mike’s Place Café on Hwy 99 and Tillman Road. This month marks their 3-year anniversary as proprietors of Mike’s Place: Home of the Snipe Burger, and here is their story.

Jan’s parents, James and Helen Christopher, opened the place back in 1978. “Snipe” was Jan’s dad’s nickname, and the Snipe burger was a very precisely produced burger that had beef, pork, and a bit of grain, and was topped with ketchup, mustard, onion, and pickle. According to Mr. Christopher, mayo and cheese “ruined a perfectly good burger.” Snipe’s was sold several times, and then Mike had a chance to buy it.

Mike had originally thought he would purchase “the place” that long ago belonged to his father-in-law, had changed hands several times, and was now empty. The original plan was to flip it. It needed lots of repairs; Mike had been in construction and knew the craft. And after several people stopped to ask him if he was going to open the place back up, Mike began to wonder if he was being tapped on the shoulder by his Boss, the Jewish Carpenter, to do just that; so he said, “Yes.” With help from family members, they poured a substantial concrete slab on the north side of the building. Next, they built a park-like picnic shelter and completed it with hanging baskets of flowers, comfortable furniture, and an open invitation to the community: Come to Mike’s, whether we are open or not. Just keep it clean, respect the property, don’t smoke, and enjoy yourselves appropriately. They opened on May 16, 2021, and they have just celebrated their third anniversary. Were there tough times, especially at first? Oh, yeah. They definitely had their moments of “What were we thinkin’?” And now everything has come together; the menu, the staff, and the customers are in a wonderful orbit, and want you to be “pulled in” to Mike’s Place.

For their third anniversary article, Mike and Jan wanted to take time to say a huge thank you to the community as well to their crew. They are also people who want to be careful to give God the glory in all things, and the emotions of gratitude are always close to the surface. “We have people who come here every day, sometimes two times a day,” said Mike. He said further, “And when I tell you it has become like a family here, I really mean it.” From the standpoint of food, Mike has been told by a New Yorker who has tasted his Black Angus Philly cheese sandwich that he wants Mike to come to New York and cook there! You can’t beat his BBQ, and the smoker is right there on site. One of my personal favorites is the stuffed baked potato with smoked chicken, and it is worth two meals.

One of Mike’s favorite features at the shop is a wall that is dedicated to the framed artwork of kids, including their grandkids who come in there. “The grandkids love coming to Gramps’ Place,” Mike said with love.

Here are some kudos from the Holts to the crew, with a bit of bio on each one, and it was obvious to me when I spoke with them that they love where they are, what they are doing, and feel like everything and everyone is family.

Marie Spence

Marie has worked at Mike’s for 18 months. She is married, stayed at home with her kids for ten years, and is back in the work force. She said, “I am grateful for Mike and Jan, and this doesn’t even feel like

work.” Marie had no prior experience, and how she “does everything.” She says, “I was nervous at first.” Fact is, under Mike’s patient tutelage, Marie, Mike, and Kim (whose bio is below) have become the Three Musketeers of the kitchen, and Jan laughs when she says, “I just stay out of their way and help out front.” Jan also added, “Under Mike’s leadership, I have seen everybody grow, including Mike. I am so proud of him.”

Kim Brooks

Mike showed Kim the same patience he showed Marie, and now Kim’s family comes often to eat at “the Place.” The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and her favorite item is the Philly Cheesesteak. She laughed when she said, “I get to eat them a bite here and there,” because they are so busy.

Evolet Fennell

Evolet (pronounced Evo-LAY) is 15, and this is her first job. “I love the work environment, and the interaction with people,” she said. She does some food prep and mostly waits tables. She will go to Renaissance in the fall and is enrolled in their culinary program. Eventually Evolet wants to travel and become an author.

Jessica Linginfelter

Jan and Mike describe her as “a great worker,” and she is the newest member of the team. Formerly, she worked at Publix, and then until last month, stayed home with her two kids. Working part time at Mike’s has been the perfect fit. She lost her dad in Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down) and we shed some tears together talking about it.

In closing, I am just going to put it this way: You will want to partake of the full “Mike’s Place Experience” as soon as you can, so make your plans and get there! You, your heart and your tummy will be glad you did!

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner