Former Pal’s Diner owner ‘electrified’ by Muskegon plans

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Some West Michigan drivers were treated to a new sight this week: the iconic Pal’s Diner rolling down I-96 to Muskegon.

But to retired restauranteur Barry Brown, it’s diner déjà vu. Brown and his wife Sam brought the iconic 1950s diner to Cascade Township 28 years earlier.

(A photo provided by Barry Brown and Pal’s Diner shows the restaurant in Cascade Township.)

“I remember my dad making a remark to me. He said, ‘Barry, you sure this is going to work out? You’re just more gutsier than I ever would’ve been on that.’ I says, ‘Dad, it’s not gutsy, it’s insanity,’” he said, laughing.

The police escorted journey from Mahwah, New Jersey, spanned 1,640 miles and five states, shutting down Interstate 80 and costing six figures, according to Brown.

“We were getting ready to position it for Guinness Book of World Records (as) hardest one ever moved in the country. It almost meets all the stipulations on that because of the width and everything. So it was quite a story in the move,” Brown said.

TOUCHES OF FAME

By the time it left New Jersey, Pal’s Diner had already touched countless lives over the decades. Original owner John DeZurney built a community with his penchant for calling customers “pals.”

(In this photo provided by Barry Brown and Pal’s Diner, owners Sam and Barry Brown pose with a Gibson guitar used in the film, “Touchback.”)

“Les Paul — he’s the inventor of the Gibson guitar and made guitars for The Beatles — he was in tears when it left. I stood next to him. He was a regular in the diner,” Brown said.

Pal’s Diner also served as the backdrop for Meat Loaf’s “More Than You Deserve” music video.

While Brown says he never could get Meat Loaf back out to the diner, he did draw other celebrities, including Paul Le Mat and Candy Clark of “American Graffiti,” and the late Peter William Mayhew, who played the original Chewbacca in the Star Wars film series. The 2011 film “Touchback,” starring Kurt Russell and Melanie Lynskey, was also shot at Pal’s Diner.

“I had a fun time. I was the cook in that motion picture,” Brown said.

Brown also attempted to launch a reality TV show centered around Pal’s Diner, although it didn’t pan out.

CREATING COMMUNITY

By the time Brown retired from the restaurant in 2017, Pal’s Diner had hosted many family milestones, including a wedding.

(A photo provided by Barry Brown and Pal’s Diner shows staff outside the restaurant in Cascade Township.)

“I remember telling the gals, ‘Don’t turn on the malt machine right now while they’re exchanging the rings,’” he said with a laugh.

“We had a tremendous business going. We watched families grow up… we walked people to their cars,” Brown added. “It’s just amazing how we put so many kids through college and just the memories of everybody. It was a big family throughout the 21 years, even with employees coming and going.”

Among those families touched by Pal’s Diner were the Campbells, who own several vehicle dealerships and Hot Rod Harley-Davidson in Muskegon.

“(I) remember coming here with the family for dinner,” said Dr. Mark Campbell. “It was fun… (to) show it to the kids to see how things were in the old days. It’s an era gone by.”

His son Scott Campbell says he also ate breakfast at the diner when he was in high school.

“I actually have a picture of one of my dad’s cars with the diner in the background. And my dad always said, ‘Man, it would be really cool if we could have that.’ So this has kind of been a lifelong dream for my family and my dad and we are excited to just keep the diner going,” Scott Campbell said.

BRINGING A ‘MEMORY MAKER’ TO MUSKEGON

Mark and Scott Campbell bought the diner in March, several months after it closed as Dan’s Diner.

They plan to reattach the entrance and restore the 67-year-old landmark to its previous Pal’s Diner name and glory, fixing neon signs, lighting, décor and rotting wood. Photos of famous visitors will return to the diner’s walls, along with memorabilia from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

(A photo provided by Barry Brown and Pal’s Diner shows the interior of the diner.)

“We saw it as one more memory maker for the future,” Mark Campbell said.

““I’m really electrified on it, I’m so pleased. These diners are far and few… and it’s just a great idea to take this thing and refurbish it. I’m just really delighted to find out they’re going to put it right back to Pal’s Diner. That’s what it is,” Brown said.

A crew spent several hours Monday moving the iconic 55-foot diner from a lot on 28th Street SE in Cascade Township onto an extendable lowboy trailer that’s one of only five in the country, according to project manager Dale Van Der Schaaf. The transport team painstakingly lifted the 60,000-pound diner car using hydraulic bottle jacks and stacked timber beams, then slid the flatbed underneath the structure and secured the wide load.

On Tuesday, the Campbells’ transport team shifted the diner onto its new foundation butted up against Hot Rod Harley-Davidson, overlooking Muskegon Lake. A new roof and patio are also in the plans.

Scott Campbell wants to eventually put the diner to work serving a single iconic food, similar to how Pronto Pups operates. Pal’s Diner will also serve alcoholic drinks.

Scott Campbell says the goal is to make Pal’s Diner a destination for bikers and the community at large.

“It means the world to us. It’s just one more reason to come to Muskegon, to come to West Michigan and to enjoy some of the past and the importance of it,” he said Monday.

The Campbells are hopeful to reopen Pal’s Diner in spring, giving the community a chance to build bonds by becoming “pals.”

(A Nov. 9, 2021 image provided by Ryan Rader of The My Auto Group shows crews packing up equipment after moving Pal’s Diner into its new foundation against Hot Rod Harley-Davidson in Muskegon.)

“It was part of that America growing up that I think my generation was blessed to have, and I’m not so sure the newer generation have had as many experiences as we did,” Mark Campbell said.

“I hope people will get a chance to look… in the inside (of Pal’s Diner) and remember it as a great era in America, and work at ways that we can have concentric rings of community and pals like that going forward,” he added.

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