by Diana Cook
There aren’t many businesses around Phoenix that can claim sincere longevity anymore. One that has been a long-time tradition in the area , having hung in there through transition and relocation, is a place people still come back to, bringing fond memories. ‘Big Mike’s’, currently located in the Three Rivers Plaza, has weathered life’s ups and downs and continues to serve the community with a wide range of food choices and a welcoming smile.
The origins of ‘Big Mike’s’ goes back to the mid-1970s when the current owner’s brother, sister-in-law and dad Richard Frawley opened it up, some 36 years ago, next to the old corner pharmacy. Having worked at “Mr. Mike’s” in Fulton and looking to extend the good food and service, they got permission to use the same name.
Locations since that origin have been varied. For example, they moved from the first spot to serving the community pizza, seafood and burgers from a building which no longer exists. It was with the village’s old bowling alley, on the site where the village municipal parking lot now carves an open space.
It was in full swing along State Street when Bonnie MacDougall, Frawley’s daughter, took over the business in 1994, but ran into a snag with the restaurant’s name when MacDougall went to transfer paperwork. Oswego County wouldn’t let her use the name they had for years, “so we became “Big” Mike’s,” says MacDougall.
A big part of the community, “Big Mike’s”, was among those who, in their heyday, sponsored bowling and Little League teams. MacDougall recalls fond connections through local affiliations too. Aside from her mom growing up here, along with herself working in the business as she grew up, she remembers that her grandfather once worked at the old Woods Meat market on State Street and that there were lots of great places to go along the strip in Phoenix. “It was a wonderful time - and I think we were good for Phoenix,” she says.
Then, after having been in business for almost 20 years along State Street, the old bridge was torn down, and businesses in the area took a hit. The family did too when illness re-oriented priorities.
They chose to move across the street to the spot where the Gingersnap Bakery currently occupies, in response to the impact of falling business proceeds, but when the illnesses became more of a struggle, “Big Mike’s” closed down in January of 1996.
MacDougall’s mother passed away in February, compounding stresses and struggles, but it wasn’t too long before the desire to serve the community returned, and the restaurant opened up again.
This time it moved to a spot just south of the village, now occupied by the Venus Salon and Day Spa, as “Big Mike’s Bee-Bop Shop”.
They received a designation as the “Pride of Phoenix” that same year, and ran their food and ice cream service from that location for another four years.
Today, their family-tradition of offering fast, but always fresh, home-made food and ice cream continues. Having been at their location in Three Rivers Plaza for 11 years, Bonnie MacDougall is at the helm, with daughter Casey helping and still with dad, “as my left-hand man, right hand man, everything to me,” MacDougall says.
“Big Mike’s” (again) has family-friendly hours, with a focus on lunch and dinner.
They’re open Monday through Thursday and on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. with extended hours on Fridays from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Customers are invited to come in and sit down for their meal or can call in any of their items as take-out at 695-4675.
There are daily specials Monday through Friday, which run for two weeks. In the winter, they tend towards warm homespun meals such as hot turkey or roast beef sandwiches with French fries and gravy. There is more of an interest in salad plates including chicken salad, egg salad, or tuna salad, in the summer season, with choice items like applesauce, fruit salad, cottage cheese or a potato or macaroni salad on the side.
Their honey wheat wraps have become a popular favorite at “Big Mike’s”, with offerings such as turkey or chicken ranch, BLT’s, roast beef, vegetable, grilled veggie and cheese, and Buffalo or Russian chicken. All wraps include choices of lettuce, tomato, cheese, black or green olives, pickles, cucumbers, mushrooms and hot or green peppers.
Hot sandwiches, including tuna melts, reubens, meatball, steak, or chicken parmesan, are also a part of the menu, in addition to cold subs and deli sandwiches.
There are also burgers, fried chicken and pizza as regular faire choices at a reasonable price and their fish is another famous favorite, drawing both locals and even some who have moved away from the area.
“We have always only carried fresh haddock,” MacDougall says, recalling a time when they could obtain it for only 59 cents a pound.
Now it’s over $6 per pound but is still something the restaurant is committed to maintaining for their customers.
In addition to their fries and gravy, “There are people who come from out of state for our haddock,” she says, and in addition relaying once instance in which people came in from California with a cooler to take it back with them.
She adds that, having worked the counter at their family restaurant since she was younger, in some cases, “we’ve been through three or four generations. I’ve had people come in ... I used to wait on their grandparents ... and they remember coming in as little kids with them.”
“I love it,” admits MacDougall, about both the restaurant-life the family has chosen over and over again, and the community of Phoenix. “We enjoy it here. It’s a small community and people are close.”
It is that connection to community that keeps MacDougall and “Big Mike’s” excited about still being in service on the local scene. “We’ve gotten to know so many people - they’re like family,” MacDougall says.
With 36 years on the local scene, there is no doubt. In Phoenix, “Big Mike’s” is a part of traditions around town, to be valued and to visit - time and time again.