A loyal clientele can hold together a beloved neighborhood establishment as just surely as steel and concrete.
Those regulars sit at the bar at Kennedy’s Irish Pub in Waterford and talk about the great memories — like the time a man ran through the front door yelling for someone to call 911 because his wife was having a baby in the parking lot.
“Well, she did and they named the baby Kennedy,” said Erin Meilak, daughter of the bar founders, Bill and Cheryl Kennedy.
Then there’s the wedding pole crammed with photograhs of customers.
“They either had their first date at Kennedy’s or feel as though we are family,” said Erin.
On Saturday, July 21, the Kennedy family will welcome patrons new and old to a big 40th anniversary “Thank You” Party. The festivities start at 3 p.m. with the musicians tuning up at 4 p.m.
“Our patrons have supported us through the good times and the bad,” said Erin. “It is so difficult to express what Kennedy’s means to me as it has been a part of my life since I was 8, and I am now 47.”
The Oakland Press has written many stories on the bar’s history.
In 1996, a story by columnist Ginny Stolicker detailed how high school sweethearts Bill and Cheryl Kennedy of Pontiac married and had children.
“Bill became a Detroit cop and Cheryl worked as a secretary,” Stolicker wrote.
Residency rules made it impossible for Bill to continue at the Detroit Police Department. The Kennedys sold their home, pontoon boat, Bill’s motorcycle in order to buy a bar in 1979 on West Huron Street in Waterford.
Cheryl tended bar, fixed lunches and watched over her children.
“Over the years she became a friend to just about everyone who walked through the front door,” wrote Stolicker.
Four generations of the immediate family are working at the bar. Management has now passed to Erin, her niece Meghan Matson, nephew Ryan Matson and Erin’s 15-year-old son Michael Meilak.
“And my mother comes in every single day,” said Erin.
Over the years, Bill’s mother Gerrie Kennedy, his brother JIm Kennedy (Jumbo), Cheryl’s mother Alice Fox, Erin’s sister Autumn Kennedy and Erin’s brother Tom Kennedy have all worked at — or are currently working — at the bar.
“We are thankful to still be a part of the Waterford community after 40 years and we owe it all to our patrons that have become a part of our family,” said Erin.
“My father Bill still calls the final shots,” said Erin.
A few employees have been working at Kennedy’s as long as 20 years. Some have children working there. “We owe much of our success to the loyal and trustworthy employees we have had through the years,” said Erin.
During winter months patrons can catch live Irish entertainers — The Gaels — an Irish group that has been playing regular gigs at Kennedy’s since the bar opened.
“We do have Irish music on our new touch-tone jukebox,” said Erin.
People who step inside the pub will see an eclectic array of memorabilia on walls and hanging from ceilings, including a sign from the Olympia arena.
“One of our regulars, Tim Sawyer, owned it,” said Erin.
When Sawyer died a couple years ago, his death hit patrons hard.
“We called him the Mayor of Kennedy’s,” she said. “He was such a wonderful man.”
When Sawyer’s Olympia sign was posted for sale on eBay, the regulars pooled their funds and were able to buy it for the bar.
The Kennedys purchased the former halfway house building east of the bar and it’s now being used by the Waterford Fire Department for safety training.
“When they’re done with the drills, we’ll be demolishing it,” said Erin.
The family isn’t sure of expansion yet.
“One step at a time,” said Erin.
She said what she loves most about the family pub is that it’s a melting pot that draws different generations.
“And it seems that no matter how far away you travel that you run in to someone with a Kennedy’s T-shirt,” she said. “Forty years seems to make the world a smaller place.”