BY KATHY GIBBONS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY – A little piece of the Upper Peninsula’s U.S. 2 is set to open on West Front Street.
Bill Walker is launching Lehto’s Pasties in the former Latte-Dah location at 720 W. Front St. Kelly Hollinger, who operated Latte-Dah for 12 years, closed her retail location to focus on catering.
“Ninety percent of our business is catering,” she said. “We’ll be catering out of a commercial kitchen in another location.
“We really will miss our customers.”
Walker hopes to build a new customer base in that spot. Until a year ago he sold pasties out of a trailer, first at Division and Front and later at Munson Avenue and Eighth Street.
Before that, he’d opened and sold the former Charlie’s Steakery at the Grand Traverse Mall and Mackinaw Brewing Company. He also established and later closed Picnic’s.
Walker’s wife, Laurie, is the niece of the late John and Katherine Lehto, who started the legendary U.P. pasty shop in 1947 (“Ten years before the Mackinac Bridge,” Walker noted).
The shop passed to the Lehtos’ daughter, Katherine Babcock, who died a few years ago. Her son ran it until Walker bought it in 2012 and operated it from last spring until it closed for the season around Christmas.
“The customer base is phenomenal,” said Walker, a native of St. Ignace. “In July and August on the weekends, we could sell up to 300 to 400 pasties a day.
“We’re the third generation running it and we have third-generation customers.”
In Traverse City, Walker will offer the original Lehto’s recipe pasties, along with veggie and chicken versions. Like in the U.P., there will be no seating – just counter service.
Laurie’s mother and Katherine Lehto’s sister, Ellen Exworthy of Traverse City, remembers how the whole enterprise came to be all those years ago.
“My sister was working in the school kitchen in St. Ignace,” Exworthy said. “The idea presented itself: ‘Why should I be working in this kitchen when I have the knowledge of the good old pasties that my mother made?’”
Now Exworthy couldn’t be happier to have Lehto’s open a second location close to home.
“My dear sister, before she passed away, she was so indeed wanting us to carry the name of the Lehto’s pasties,” Exworthy said. “Absolutely, it’s got to be continued.
“If it doesn’t, we’re going to hear it from up in heaven.”
Lehto’s Pasties in Traverse City is slated to open Monday. Hours will be Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; call 941-8090. Hollinger and Latte-Dah Catering can be reached at 642-7148.