(MARSHALL, Mich)— For many, Win Schuler’s Bar-Scheeze is as legendary as the historic Marshall restaurant for which it is named.
By the mid-20th Century, the restaurant’s popular reputation was drawing people from all over the Midwest for a fine dining experience. In fact, it was not uncommon for people to have to wait in long lines just to get a table.
Second-generation owner Win Schuler realized that during this wait time, his guests were building up ravenous appetites. So, as a gesture of hospitality, he did something unheard of in the restaurant industry in 1952. Upon being seated, diners were immediately rewarded for their patience with a complimentary crock of Schuler’s own secret recipe “Bar Scheeze,” a healthy portion of delicious meatballs in barbecue sauce and a warm loaf of fresh bread.
Diners ate it up, literally. It was a brilliant promotional idea that created a party-like atmosphere in the dining room, making people feel more like guests in Win’s home than patrons in a restaurant.
Bar Scheeze became a bigger hit than Win had anticipated. It was so well received that restaurant patrons were constantly asking if there was any way they could buy some of the delicious spread to take home. The more Win thought about it, the more he liked the idea and decided to give the people what they wanted.
Within just a few years, a Bar Scheeze plant was open in Marshall to produce crocks of the creamy, flavorful snack. By 1960, third-generation Hans Schuler took over operation of the factory. Throughout that decade, he refined the “secret” recipe and eventually introduced it to supermarkets first in Michigan, and then beyond. Even United Airlines began featuring the spread on its flights from coast to coast.
Luman M. Bailey Jr. was a student at Marshall High School in the early 1960s and Schuler’s Restaurant was a familiar place to him, as his mother was a waitress there in the 1950s.
“While in high school, I sang with the Marshall Singers [and] we sang for the Schuler Restaurant during Christmas,” Luman said in a holiday letter to Hans, dated December 22, 2011. “Christmas has a special meaning to me and I always end up thinking of the Schuler organization. I will never forget how nice the Centennial Dining Room looked for the Christmas holiday, with the fire going full force.”
Luman actually worked for Schuler’s Restaurant in 1964, the year he graduated high school.
“My senior year, I was part of a co-op program,” Luman said. “I went to school in the morning and cut meat for Quality Restaurant Suppliers [the food processing facility for all the Schuler restaurant locations] in the afternoon.”
“Luman was an exceptional young man,” said Hans. “He was personable, bright and meticulous. He always exceeded our expectations and always went the extra mile. Luman, was like family, as many of our employees have been. That’s the thing about the hospitality industry, we really care about each other—it’s not just a job.”
Following high school graduation, Luman enlisted in the Naval Reserves and he was sent to California for training before heading overseas. Before heading out, Luman had sent a hand-written letter back home to Hans and the two began a brief pen pal exchange. Letters that Luman kept all those years.
On April 10, 1969, Hans sent a letter to Luman in Vallejo, California:
“It was certainly great to hear from you. Sounds like Uncle Sam is giving you quite a workout!”
“Things are going along very well for Quality Restaurant Suppliers. The restaurant business has been very good this spring and we are booming with the introduction of our 8-ounce Bar-Scheeze to the retail market. We are planning on its introduction in the Detroit market by the middle of May.”
“I am sending along our latest issue of the Inn-Signia and will put you on our permanent mailing list.”
“Keep me posted as to how things are going as I will always enjoy hearing from you,” Hans continued. “When you get that first leave back to Marshall, be sure to stop in to see us. From your letter though, it looks like you are taking an indirect route – via South Vietnam!”
“Take care of yourself, and my very best regards. ~Hans.”
Luman had landed in Vietnam, where he served as a machine gunner on a river boat for one year. Yet, even 8,500 miles away, he kept in touch with his Schuler family.
On December 11, 1969, Hans sent another letter to Luman:
“I certainly enjoyed receiving the Christmas greeting and picture of you in Vietnam. I hope things are going well for you.”
“Since you have been gone the Schuler organization has been on the move. We are currently building a restaurant in Ft. Wayne, Indiana which will mean that we will be going into federal meat inspection. Also we have expanded the Bar-Scheeze on the retail market. Presently we are doing business with every major supermarket chain in the state of Michigan.”
“I am going to try to do something I have never done before. That is, to send a crock of cheese to you in Vietnam. Sure hope it comes through all right.”
“Take care of yourself and let us hear from you if you get the chance. My very best regards. ~Hans.”
Turns out that crock of cheese did make it halfway around the world to Vietnam, much to the pleasure of Luman and his fellow sailors. In a holiday letter to Hans, dated December 22, 2011, Luman shared the memory from more than 40 years prior:
“A special thing happened while I was in Vietnam [in] 1969. You sent me a crock of Schuler Bar Scheeze and I shared it with my Vietnam Naval friends and one Vietnamese citizen.”
The letter wasn’t the only thing Hans received that day.
“I love to hold onto things of importance to me, I call this the ‘Bailey Archives.’ In this collection, I have held onto two letters from you and a copy of the Win Schuler’s Inn-Signia.. I want to share these things with you; I have included them with this letter.”
That issue of the Schuler’s Inn-Signia newsletter from the spring of 1970, featured a photo of Luman and members of his Naval unit in Vietnam. The caption read:
“Luman Bailey (holding crock of Bar Scheeze) introduces his military buddies to a treat from home.”
Underneath, a brief story about how that crock made it to Vietnam.
“Friends of Luman Bailey, U.S. Navy, stationed in Vietnam, really appreciated the break from military fare as Luman shared his Schuler Bar Scheeze! Even his Vietnamese buddy was sold. R.J. [Hans] Schuler, president of Quality Restaurant Suppliers, sent the Scheeze to Luman. As a high school student, Luman worked for Mr. Schuler with the Bar Scheeze and as a meat cutter trainee.”
After a year overseas, Luman returned to Michigan and enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in the Food Marketing and Advertising program.
“I was sponsored in the program by the Kellogg Company,” Luman says. “I worked a semester for Kellogg and then was in school the follow semester. I was asked to be part of the program by Mr. Lyle Roll, president of Kellogg at the time.”
Even a full scholarship to Michigan State University, to study restaurant and institutional management, couldn’t lure Luman away from WMU and the relationships he had established with the cereal giant.
Throughout his college years, Luman also continued to work at Schuler’s—moving into the dining room and working alongside the legendary Win Schuler.
“The Schuler organization has always been an important part of my life. I worked for you [Hans] at Quality and the Dining Room with Win many times. He was bigger than life and a wonderful mentor to me.”
Luman graduated from WMU on August 17, 1973 and he noted that Mary S. Coleman from Marshall was in attendance at both his ceremony and his party. Coleman was a probate judge in Calhoun County and later became the first woman to win election to the Michigan Supreme Court. She was also unanimously elected by her peers to serve as Chief Justice (more of Mary’s story will be shared here in March, during Women’s History Month).
“Mary was very instrumental in mapping out my life while a foster child, from age nine to 18 years,” Luman recalled.
Following college graduation, Luman began his long career working for Kellogg’s—first in Detroit, then Indiana, North Dakota, Illinois and California. He retired in San Francisco about 10 years ago and subsequently moved to Richmond, Virginia where he resides with his giant schnauzer, Mr. Darcy. At least twice a year he returns home to Marshall to visit with relatives who still live in the area. And, while he’s in town, he always dines at Schuler’s and lodges just a few blocks away at the historic National House Inn.
“Coming home to Marshall, yearly, is not really coming home until I dine at Schuler’s Restaurant,” Luman says. “Schuler’s has come a long way since the 60s. Keep up the good work and thanks for keeping the organization alive and well for folks like me to still enjoy after 46 years.”
Founded in 1909, the iconic Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub epitomizes hospitality excellence as a family-owned and operated business. Located at the crossroads of south-central Michigan near the intersection of I-94 and I-69, this world-class Pure Michigan destination has built its 107-year reputation by offering guests quality food and excellent service, in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
*Note: In 1982, Win Schuler’s Bar Scheeze name, recipes and production rights were sold to Vlasic Foods, Inc., a division of Campbell Foods. A new Heritage Cheese Spread is available on Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub menus.