Frank's History, Est. 1924, Zeeland, MI
In 1924 the economy was booming, the stock market rising daily, and your friendly barber was advising people as to which stock to buy! The new merchants that year in downtown Zeeland, Michigan were Frank and Mary Dionise, recent immigrants from Southern Italy, with their three baby children, Virginia, James and Alfonzo. They moved into the second story living quarters and opened the store featuring primarily fresh exotic fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, and grapes. It was common to see a couple of stalks of bananas hanging in the window and as time went by they included ice cream, roasted peanuts, candy, and cigars. Frank had an upbeat personality who enjoyed a laugh, and it didn't take long for the Zeeland Dutch to make friends with these new Italian Roman Catholics. Of course, it was a slow, uncertain start, but the economy was good, people had money, and no one dreamed that a serious depression was only five years away.
Soon were born daughter Dorothy and son Frank Jr., being twins and along came the depression. The fruit business slowed down, Frank made his own ice cream, roasted his own peanuts, held the overhead down, and hung in there. Many of his customers were high school students coming in for sundaes, sodas, malted milks, and peanuts. On Valentine's season, Frank loaded up with chocolates in heart shaped boxes. He was not beyond using his personality and smile to put a little pressure on the boys to buy a box for their girlfriends. Some boys who didn't even have a girlfriend fell to the pressure and ate the chocolates themselves.
The depression took its toll on business, but Frank kept going. He opened on Sunday, but that was a no-no in Zeeland at the time. This began because there were bachelors and widowers who had no car and no place to eat on Sunday. Mary would help them out by making them sandwiches. It was against the law in Zeeland to be open for business on Sunday if you did not serve food. In 1940, Frank had a grill installed and was selling not only his usual wares, but hamburgers and fries along with other prepared food. He immediately became known for his excellent hamburgers. Frank came up with other new products called the Cho-Cho, which is sort of a chocolate malt popsicle, and the now famous Paddle Pop, a hand dipped ice cream bar on a stick.
In 1960, Frank and Mary sold the business to Frank Jr. and his wife Pat and the business expanded and remained successful. Frank and Pat had three children, Lynn, Dan, and Mike. All lived above the restaurant and helped out while growing up. Frank Jr., commonly known as "Frog" had an engaging personality and was a very interesting person. When Zeeland High School was located just down the street, there was a rush after the basketball games to fight for a seat at Frank's. When things got out of hand with the teens, Pat would knock on the radiator pipe with a spoon so Frank Jr. could hear it upstairs. Over the years, Frank had to drag more than a few rowdy kids out by their ears.
Frank's remained busy, but the customers sort of changed. No longer is it a big hang out for high schoolers with pinball and arcade games, but it is now somewhat of a blue-collar and white-collar business along with many families coming in the evening hours. The menu has expanded to not only hamburgers, but assorted sandwiches and side dishes along with Mary's great recipe for chili. The walls are covered with mementos and memorabilia of all sorts. No longer is Frank's selling fruit, candy, cigars, and peanuts. Nor is it open on Sundays.
Dan Dionise took over the day to day operation after Frank Jr. was diagnosed with MS in 1985. Dan was sort of a carbon copy of Frank. The place became louder as Dan entered the building and anyone could become the next butt of his jokes. Pat and Dan continued to run Frank's and thrive with the economy until Dan's untimely death in 2008. Now, Pat and her grandson, Shane Hammer, run the day to day operations.
Today, a number of class reunions are held at Frank's. Many people returning to visit Zeeland after a number of years stop in at the chances they will see old friends and enjoy a hamburger or Paddle Pop just like old times.
Frank's isn't just another place to eat, it is an institution operated by four generations of one family with pleasant memories and happiness.