By Kathy Gibbons
SUTTONS BAY — Pam Leonard is taking a big old building in downtown Suttons Bay and turning it into a little slice of Main Street.
Leonard’s personal and business partner, Traverse City dentist Stephen Kozelko, purchased the old Silvertree Deli site for a fraction of the value it held 10 years ago at auction recently. He divided it up condo-style and Leonard bought the largest chunk of the 7,000-square-foot main level, planning to turn it into Wine Country Gourmet Markets, set up in a streetscape-style configuration.
“There will be a bunch of little businesses inside, including a very nice deli, a meat counter, a bakery, a wine shop, a chocolatier and we’ll have a pizzeria,” she said. “We’re going to do an old-fashioned soda fountain, lunch counter and it will also be a coffee shop.”
The remainder of the main floor will be occupied by a new tasting room for French Valley Vineyards. That’s Kozelko’s business; the Traverse City dentist has been growing grapes at his 75-acre French Valley Vineyards in Lake Leelanau since 2001 and having his wine made at nearby Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery.
“We’ve been bottling for a number of years, and we’ve actually been stockpiling it,” Kozelko said. “We’ve been wanting to get the tasting room open for the last couple of years, and finally have the license now.
“Down the road, we might open another tasting room (at the vineyard).”
Leonard is planning on converting the upper level into a 14-suite boutique hotel. While she hopes to have the market up and running this summer, the hotel is going to take longer.
“We’ll be working on that throughout the summer, putting the elevator in and so forth,” she said. “It seemed a natural, because there are no hotels in downtown Suttons Bay.
“I was just trying to think what would bring in a lot of people — locals and tourists alike. I think it’s going to be a destination marketplace.”
Sally Guzowski, executive director of the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said the hotel will be especially welcome.
“We can always use more rooms out in the county, that’s for sure,” Guzowski said.
Suttons Bay Village Manager Wally Delamater said he hasn’t received any formal plans for the building yet and so couldn’t comment.
“Until I get actual information from people that they’re progressing forward, it’s at this point in the planning stages,” he said.
Leonard and Kozelko are no strangers to the hospitality industry. A 30-year veteran of the area’s real estate scene, Leonard said she was one of few female Realtors when she started.
Over the years, she has bought and sold a lot of real estate and at one point her property management company oversaw 75 weekly rental homes.
“I can’t help myself,” she said. “There’s so many great deals and I’m a big believer in real estate even though it’s had a hiccup in the last few years.
“I do believe real estate in northern Michigan is undervalued. I firmly believe it will come back.”
Leonard bought the Vineyard Inn north of Suttons Bay about 10 years ago. For the last three years, she and her staff have been running a catering operation out of Corky’s Bistro at the inn, where a “great new chef” she couldn’t reveal the name of yet is coming on board soon. And she’s gotten heavy into Leelanau Peninsula’s booming wedding trade, maintaining an office for Wine Country Weddings and Events in Elmwood Township.
Together, Leonard and Kozelko own Crooked Creek Ranch on Lake Leelanau. With 1,800 feet of water frontage and a restored barn, it’s seen brisk demand for destination weddings.
“I have a 30-foot mobile kitchen truck,” she said. “So we use that as well as Corky’s kitchen to prepare the food.
“Last year, we must have hosted over 4,000 people at our events, and we catered those. I do about 50 large weddings a year at our farms.”
For his part, Kozelko has always been interested in agriculture and preserving old barns. Continuing to work full-time as a dentist, he welcomes the outlet that tending to the winery and farm provides.
“Dentistry is my passion,” he said. “But by the end of the week, going out and working in the vineyard or on the farm is a nice outlet.”
And if things weren’t already a little hectic, throwing the new venture in downtown Suttons Bay into the mix takes it up a notch.
“We make wine now,” Leonard said. “I do wine tours. We do weddings at vineyards. I have an inn called the Vineyard Inn. We are really working that wine vernacular, if you will.
“And it does all kind of make sense. People who don’t know us, we do seem like a crazy couple. But there was a method to our madness and it’s about to all come to fruition.”