February 01, 2017DRYDEN — The future of Lenny Miller's restaurant in Dryden is unknown following the popular business owner's unexpected passing last Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Miller, 64, was found deceased that morning inside his home by the restaurant's manager, Cindy Lefler, who went to check on him when he did not come in.
On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 28, the popular eatery's open sign was still on, and restaurant staff, including Lefler, attended to a smattering of customers.
Lefler said it is hoped that a memorial and celebration of Miller's life can take place sometime this summer.
She said Miller's only surviving relative is a brother living in another state. She added that immediate funeral arrangements had already taken place.
Staff will honor
Lefler said the restaurant staff, which numbers about 20, plans to honor all previously booked parties through mid-February.
"The staff intends to fulfill those commitments," said Lefler. "No bookings had been scheduled beyond that date."
Lefler said she is unaware if Miller had made any specific provisions for the building at 5800 Dryden Rd. or for the business.
"We really don't know what is going to happen," she said. "That will be up to Lenny's brother."
A giver to community
Lenny Miller, along with his late wife Claudia, opened the restaurant (formerly the Chuckwagon) in 1990, and soon made their home in Dryden.
Within the community, he came to be known for his hospitality, fine cuisine and his generosity.
A supporter of Dryden activities, organizations and causes; Miller routinely gave of his money, time and services to benefit residents and the community at large.
Among those to benefit from his generosity were: Dryden Schools, Dryden Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dryden youth sports programs, the Dryden Township Fire Dept., and numerous other projects and fundraisers.
He also served on the Board of Directors of Lapeer Team Work, and organization that trains and finds jobs and opportunities for local residents with physical or mental challenges.
Over the course of the past 26 years, Miller hosted numerous weddings, birthdays, graduation parties, baby showers, anniversaries and funerals, as well as welcoming Lapeer Economic Club members for luncheons.
He also played host to numerous dignitaries, including former Michigan governors, Jim Blanchard and John Engler.
For some time, Lenny Miller's was one of the few local establishments to offer supper-club style quality entertainment.
He occasionally opened his doors for well-known rock artists, such as Dick Wagner, who wrote Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed," and who first found success as the leader of the popular Detroit-area band, "Frost."
Grand Marshal 'Lenny'
Miller's popularity in the Dryden community was further evident in September 2015, when Miller was selected as the grand marshal of the Dryden Boom Day Parade.
In Lenny's words...
After hearing of his selection, Miller sat down at the restaurant with the Tri-City Times to discuss his career and share his love and appreciation for the people of Dryden.
"I was honored that they asked me, but I think they probably could have found someone more worthy," Miller quipped at the time. "But really, I'm very honored by this."
Miller spoke of his humble beginnings and of the satisfaction he derived from operating a successful business.
"I've been in this business since I was a little boy," Miller recalled. "We were dirt-poor farmers in Iowa and I needed to work.
"I got a job washing dishes and scrubbing floors at a Holiday Inn when I was 12 years old," he said. "I've been working in this business ever since."
Though he never had formal training as a chef, Miller traveled a great deal as a young man, spending time and working in restaurants in California, Virginia, Ohio and eventually, Michigan.
"I always had a passion for this business," he said. "When I came to Michigan in 1971, I got a job as a chef at a Hilton.
"I did pretty well and built a reputation for myself. When I was in my mid-thirties, I wanted to have my own place.
"I had a brief stint at the White Horse in Metamora in the late eighties, when Claudia and I decided to buy the old Chuckwagon restaurant. And I'm still here."
In concluding that interview, Lenny talked about the support he had received and the affection he had developed for his new hometown of Dryden.
"I love the people here in Dryden," he said. "They've been very supportive of me, and I try to give back to them.
"This business is a people business, and the people are why I love what I do, and why I'm still doing it," said Miller. "They are the ones that keep me going.
"This business requires a lot of hours and hard work," he concluded. "But it's the joy of my life."
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.