THOMPSONVILLE — Geno Allen spent 28 years making a good living in Detroit, but his heart always stayed in his hometown of Thompsonville.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better growing up here,” Allen said. “A nice, small town, a lot like Mayberry, where everyone knows everybody. We hunted and fished and played baseball and had a good time.”
These days, Allen might be the most important small business owner in Thompsonville, or as the locals call it, “T-ville.” Allen owns and operates Geno’s Sports Bar & Grill — a vibrant business in a Benzie County community that has seen better business days. Geno’s usually is packed on Friday and Saturday nights and brings in customers from across the county and nearby Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa.
They stay busy on weekdays, too, a stark contrast to Thompsonville’s sleepy streets.
“If it wasn’t for Geno’s, you might as well roll up the streets of Thompsonville,” said Colfax Township Supervisor Ron Evitts. “It’s the focal point for the people of Thompsonville. They can meet there for dinner or lunch or cocktails and solve the world’s problems.”
Allen’s road to successful small business owner in a tiny town was a long one he admittedly “never saw coming.” The Benzie Central graduate was a state wrestling champion who received a wrestling scholarship to Ferris State University. He went to work for Detroit Diesel after college and labored at the engine manufacturer for nearly three decades. Rumors of layoffs and buyouts at the company prompted Allen to return home and buy the community bar in 2008.
He’d never been in the restaurant business before that move.
“I got all my experience from the other side of the bar,” Allen said. “It was a considerable risk, but once I looked at the feasibility of it and what the current income was, based on the numbers, it looked like I could survive.”
Allen set out to make the business thrive. He remodeled the interior, extended the bar and topped it with wood from a bowling lane. He added an expansive exterior deck that allows for shows by classic rock bands, special events for bikers and an annual classic car show.
He said his biggest emphasis was placed on producing good, affordable food.
“My mother always made these fabulous barbecue ribs, and when we were growing up, we always talked to her about opening up a rib place,” Allen said. “So, in tribute to her, I attempted to copy her recipe … and let that be my feature item.”
The restaurant also specializes in extra cheesy pizzas, burgers and chicken.
“I buy my ribs and hamburger here locally, so it’s nice fresh meat,” Allen said. “It means a lot.”
Allen’s success has made him sort of a community pillar in Thompsonville. He employs nine people and plans to operate Geno’s for years to come.
“I said going in I wanted to make it to 62, and Good Lord willing, if I make it to 62, I’ll make a decision at that point,” said Allen, now 55.