OWOSSO — In a move that has shocked the community, the iconic Jumbo’s Burger Bar on Washington Street locked its doors Thursday, and multiple employees say the closure is permanent.
The reason for the sudden closure has not been disclosed publicly. The Argus-Press was unable to reach owners Todd or Shelly Sydow despite multiple efforts Thursday.
“It’s very sad,” said Louise Fraidenburg of Owosso, a customer for about 40 years. “Jumbo’s has been a staple in downtown Owosso ever since I can remember. The lighting was nice, the service was good and the hamburgers were excellent. It’s shocking — it’s not something I expected.”
At lunchtime Thursday, customers found the doors locked. So did a man identifying himself as a beverage supplier. No signs were posted announcing the bar was closed.
Several employees confirmed the closing as they loaded personal effects into their vehicles Thursday afternoon. The employees declined to comment except to confirm the closing was permanent, referring any other questions to the owners.
In a Facebook post this week that has since been removed, the owners said, “It is with great sadness and heavy hearts we regret to announce that Jumbo’s will be officially closing the doors tomorrow (March 22). We cannot express what a pleasure it has been serving our community and creating lasting friendships with our dearest customers.”
The Irish-themed bar/restaurant was purchased by the Sydows from the family of Joe Merkel in 2016. Merkel died in 2015.
Todd Sydow, an Ionia native, owned a party store and a deli, and worked in the automotive industry before relocating to Owosso in 2001 to become the business manager at Young Chevrolet. He left the position when he and his wife purchased Jumbo’s.
“Buying Jumbo’s was a tough decision, but this opportunity presented itself and we had to jump on it,” Todd Sydow said at the time. “Had it not been Jumbo’s I wouldn’t have been interested.”
Recently, Sydow took another position with Young, working at the dealership’s new location in St. Johns.
The Sydows retained all 28 employees working at the restaurant when they purchased it, extending hours and bringing in live acts.
They changed the menu slightly and increased some prices.
“I don’t know why he’s closed,” said Corky Adams, owner of Abiding in the Vine restaurant in downtown Owosso. “Business is oftentimes up and down, and maybe that had something to do with it. It’s such a staple in our community. I’m shocked. I’m sad to see it go.
“Will someone else come in?” she continued. “Or maybe he’ll regroup and continue to have this great place in our community.”
Jumbo’s first opened in 1964. The original owners, Jim “Jumbo” Mahaney and his wife Pat, operated the bar for several years before selling to Mick Flynn. Joe Merkel and his family purchased the place in 1994, running it for 22 years, until selling to the Sydows.
Merkel’s daughter, Shar Haskins, was part-owner and served as Jumbo’s general manager after retiring from General Motors in 2011. After the Sydows purchased the restaurant, she worked closely with Todd Sydow for a month.
“We are really sorry it happened,” Haskins said Thursday, referring to herself and her sister. “We knew something was going on but we didn’t know what. We’d like to thank our former customers and the employees that worked for us. We’re sorry it happened.”
As residents cope with the loss of the iconic burger bar, its future remains a question mark.
“That sucks that it closed, because I liked that place,” Matt Roll of Morrice said. “It was a great place to go. It was a family atmosphere, and you could have a beer and relax.”
“I’m surprised because very often Jumbo’s was packed wall to wall, and it had the best cheeseburgers you could get in town,” said longtime customer Dan Smith, owner of PC and Electronics in Owosso. “So to see it close, it’s heartbreaking.”
Debby Shiffer of Bancroft said she’ll miss going to Jumbo’s.
“I find it really surprising that they closed,” she said. “They always looked so busy. What I’ll miss most are their hamburgers.”
“I’m going to miss Ladies’ Night,” added Shiffer’s friend, Margaret Hemenway of Bancroft.