Sleder’s Family Tavern, Michigan’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, has announced that its 138th year will begin with new owners. On December 31, 2019, Brian and Deb Cairns, who have owned the tavern since 1992, are selling the business to their son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Megan Cox. Ryan and Megan will continue the legacy of the third family to own the historic tavern long term.
Established in 1882 by Bohemian immigrant, Vincil Sleder, the Traverse City landmark tavern was owned by three generations of Sleders until the 1970s. Then, after two short-term ownerships, Bob and Sylvia Classens purchased Sleder’s in 1974 and ran the tavern for 18 years. The Classens built the beautiful, Victorian-style dining room warmly known as the “porch.” In fact, it was on this very porch that Brian and Deb Cairns were married when they bought the tavern. They celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary on May 30 of this year.
Over the past two decades, the porch has grown into a popular party and banquet venue under Deb Cairns’s leadership, her lifelong ties to the community, and resourceful staff. A number of employees have been at Sleder’s as long or even longer than the Cairns family. Summer staffers regularly return on school breaks, and many former employees continue to stop back in after years living away. “They are all family,” says Deb: “The staff are the most important part of what makes Sleder’s so special.” For Brian and Deb, who now live in Orange Beach, Alabama, retiring from ownership will be bittersweet. They look forward to reuniting with everyone for their last staff Christmas party.
Along with the close-knit staff, another cherished partnership Ryan and Megan will be inheriting is the On the Porch Concert Series, sponsored by Connemara Concerts and WNMC 90.7 FM. Traverse City music man and promoter Seamus Shinners first approached Deb and Brian over 20 years ago about holding the singer-songwriter concerts on the 90-seat porch, and Ryan and Megan Cox have confirmed that shows will go on! “Never change a machine that works well; just maintain it,” said Brian Cairns in 1992, and in tune with this enduring motto, a “Maintain, don’t change” stewardship will continue under the Coxes.
Ryan and Megan (Simpson) Cox both worked at Sleders during high school and college. Sweethearts even then, they both graduated from Traverse City High School and Montana State University. The couple were married in 2000 and have three children who attend Traverse City public schools. Ryan is a civil engineer, and Megan has a degree in business. Megan worked for Munson Healthcare for over 20 years before resigning her position earlier this year to return to work at Sleder’s full time.
Megan and Ryan Cox are committed to preserving Sleder’s Family Tavern’s nostalgic charm, family-friendly dining, and iconic, turn-of-the-century barroom featuring the longest mahogany bar in town, down-home food, and everybody’s favorite moose to smooch, Randolph.
So here’s to Sleder’s 138th year in 2020! We have much to celebrate and appreciate. From the Cairns, Cox, and whole Sleder’s family to you and yours, may the good food, good drink, and good talk continue. Cheers!