As Hogan’s Closes, a life chapter ends

The walls are filled with photos of famous golfers, and memorabilia hangs everywhere. There are large booths and smaller booths and a tile floor and colorful lamps and a long bar where TV screens are bracketed near shelves of liquor bottles and customers nod every time you come in.

Hogan’s restaurant is not a five-star cuisine place, not a “nouvelle” this or “organic” that. It still serves nachos, burgers, fish and ribs, still prints up daily specials on slips of white paper, still has the wait staff bring you water right away, along with a menu and a friendly greeting. Most of the workers, from cooks to managers, have been there a long time, some more than 20 years, a few as long as 30. There’s Doug, Stephanie, Peg, Deborah, Kathy, Todd, Kristen and Elliot — to name a few.

I know them all.

Because I’ve been going there that long.

What happens when your favorite place closes its doors? Hogan’s in Bloomfield Township — a warm, welcoming, dying breed of restaurant — is dying itself.

It’s been sold. This will be its last week.

Then the new owners plan to knock it down.

Taking every memory with it.

Special in its own way

What happens when your neighborhood joint disappears? Most communities have a Hogan’s of their own, a longtime foodery with longtime customers, where they know your name and your dinner preference — before you sit down.

A guy named Richard Bochenek is responsible for Hogan’s. He bought the building in 1960 (it was then a Howard Johnson’s) and converted it to a golf-themed restaurant in the mid-1970s, owing to its proximity to Oakland Hills Country Club and the fact that many customers who came in were still wearing colorful pants and short-sleeved shirts.

Over the years, Hogan’s (named for Ben Hogan, who never set foot in the place) saw plenty of famous faces, according to staff recollections. Frank Sinatra had lunch there. Dennis Rodman was a regular. Bob Seger used to enjoy the pizza. During the Ryder Cup, foreigners parked their campers in the parking lot and ate their meals in the restaurant.

But the lack of glitz was what made it special. Hogan’s was the kind of place where your hot cup of soup was on the table before you took off your coat. Where the cook sent out a dessert because he knew you liked it the last time. Where milestones of the staff were part of the conversation. (“Hey, congratulations on the grandchild!” … “Hey, so sorry about your mother.”)

If you went to Hogan’s regularly, you knew that Elliot was a die-hard Tigers fan and Todd was trying his hand at writing and Doug had his parents in from out west. You also weren’t surprised to find out someone on the staff was gone for a long vacation or medical reasons, but he or she always came back.

“I think we were very accommodating over the years,” said Rick Bochenek, the current owner and (naturally) Richard’s son. “We’re like a family. We care for each other.”

It was truly hard, he said, to tell the staff that, after more than 50 years, his extended family felt it was time to sell the business.

“Everyone keeps saying we should have a farewell party,” Bochenek said, “but it doesn’t feel like an occasion for a party.”

So many memories

Because this was a freewill decision, no tears need be shed for ownership. But you feel for the workers. And in a way for the customers. As one older man said to me last week, “I’m a bachelor for 30-plus years. I’ll die of malnutrition before I find another place like this!”

I get it. There were weeks where I ate four or five times at Hogan’s. The other night, all I saw were memories. There, in the “Garden room,” is where my family has gathered for decades the night before Thanksgiving.

There, in that round corner booth, is where I meet to discuss business and conduct interviews.

There, in that wide center booth, is where my little nieces and nephews used to crowd in beside us, sharing plate after plate of Hogan’s famous Amaretto Almond Tofutti Pie, drenched in melted carob sauce. No more of that? Really?

I know there are bigger issues in the world. I know it doesn’t rank with international terrorism or an East Coast blizzard. But the stories of daily life are rarely so global. They are often more about “Where are we gonna eat tonight?”

For hundreds of people who used to answer that by driving to Maple and Telegraph, they will now have to think twice. And they will no doubt miss the smiling faces and familiar aromas that used to make them feel the way you always want to feel when you sit down for a hearty meal.

Home.

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