On behalf of the Cairns, Cox, and extended family within Sleder’s Family Tavern, we are saddened to share the news that our patriarch Brian Cairns at age 82 passed away on July 14, 2022. Brian was an extraordinary husband, father, step-father, grandfather, businessman, mentor, and dear friend to many.
Brian and his wife Deb purchased Sleder’s in 1992 and were married on the Sleder’s porch. They owned and operated the historic restaurant for 28 years and lived in the apartment above the saloon. With Brian’s two children and Deb’s three, they became a blended family that grew to include their children’s partners and four grandchildren.
Each of their children and grandchildren has worked at Sleder’s at one time. Today, you’ll see his oldest granddaughter Madison behind the bar and younger grandchildren at the host station or in the kitchen. Brian’s oldest daughter, me, Chrissine, manages the marketing and waters the flowers, and since 2020, Brian’s step-son Ryan Cox and his wife Megan have owned and operated the business, so Brian’s legacy lives on. “Never change a machine that works well; just maintain it,” said Brian in 1992, and in tune with this enduring motto, his “maintain, don’t change” stewardship continues under the Coxes.
Brian’s restaurant career began in 1963 after earning a BA in Hospitality Business from MSU. In 1969 he moved to Traverse City and bought the first fast food burger restaurant on Front Street, the Burger Chef, which employed many high school students during the 70s. He would forever after run into people with stories of when they worked for him at the Burger Chef. In 1971, Brian was the president of the Traverse City Chapter of the Michigan Restaurant Association, and over the next twenty years, he would enjoy a career as the general manager of three different Northern Michigan ski resorts, most notably, Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort and Conference Center in Cedar.
During his working days, he believed in getting the job done and lending a hand wherever it was needed. If that meant cooking on the line or traying plates, he would do that. If that meant cleaning rooms with the housekeeping staff, he would do that. If that meant hopping on a snowmobile at 4 a.m. to fix a snowmaking machine, he would put on his boots and do that. He knew what needed to be done and made it happen. He had high expectations, and he led with vigor and by example.
You wouldn’t always know it by his intensity or quick stride to get where he was going, but he also had a big and generous heart. He valued the people around him. Each time that he moved onto a new position, he brought many along. Even our Sleder’s General Manager of 30 years, Beth Schram, originally worked for him at Sugar Loaf. And way back when he left one resort to manage another, he brought with him his management team and the house band. He appreciated live music. When he and Deb bought Sleder’s, he partnered with a local music promoter to host 20 years of concerts on the Sleder’s porch. Maybe in Brian’s name, we should bring back the music on the porch!
Brian will be remembered and missed each and every day by his former employees, his friends, and most of all, his wife, dog, children, and his whole extended family who remain at Sleder’s carrying on his legacy of excellent hospitality, good food, good times, and memories that continue.