by Kathy Gibbons
ALDEN — On Monday night, Jane VanEtten is planning on dining out.
She's also going to stay up past 9 p.m. for a change, and maybe enjoy a fire in the pit that's been in her yard for three years — but that she'd never managed to stay awake late enough to enjoy.
Today is the last day she'll be operating The Muffin Tin in Alden. After 25 years, VanEtten, 74, is retiring and closing the seasonal business that has become a summer mainstay for local residents and visitors.
Looking back, 1988 seems like a long time ago. That's when she and her daughter, Missy Pennington, opened The Muffin Tin in its first, smaller location in downtown Alden. A teacher in Gaylord at the time, VanEtten saw the business as a source of extra income in the summer that would allow her to enjoy her free time.
She was right on one count.
"She had a boat over at Dewitt's (Marine), so the plan was we were going to do this little business and we were going to meet people and live on the boat, and by early afternoon, we'd be back on the boat," Pennington said. "Well, that didn't work."
Because the business grew and required a lot of time and energy.
They started with about a half dozen varieties of muffins, then added scones and cookies along with many more flavors of muffins. Pennington's two children, Bob and Laura, were also involved over the years.
"You didn't stay up late and you had to get up early and it turned out that you had to start baking at 10 at night and bake through until 7 in the morning," VanEtten said.
Eventually, they could afford to hire some help. And about 10 years ago, they moved to a bigger location with a better kitchen so Bob could hone his skills while attending Johnson and Wales University to become a chef. He developed a lunch menu and during the three summers he worked the kitchen, offered special brunches and dinners.
Early on, Pennington opened a second Muffin Tin in Traverse City, which she operated for 11 years before selling it to return to college to become an occupational therapist. VanEtten said it remained open about six years and closed after the next owners sold it.
VanEtten also made her mark by taking the lead and developing the Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention. It provides grants for Antrim County residents who are uninsured and underinsured to receive mammograms and related support.
"I feel when you live in a community, you've got to take care of your community," she said.
VanEtten didn't get a chance to tell this summer's visitors who left before Labor Day that The Muffin Tin won't be there when they return next summer because she was hoping to sell it, though that didn't work out. Those who do know about it have been ordering multiples of muffins, so they'll have some to freeze.
Edward Huller, who lives in Alden and has been a customer since 1992 and is president of the High Tea board, was in Friday to pick up four of his favorites.
"We'll freeze them and make them last as long as they can," he said.