“Oh it’s totally different on the inside there,” he said. “You won’t even recognize it.”
According to St. Clair County property records, Francis bought the building at 81057 Main St. in September 2020 for $225,000.
He said they’ve gutted the whole building and put in new heating, cooling and wiring. The building’s siding was taken off and the inside is ready for drywall. The only thing that’s the same is the outside four walls.
“It’s going to be a gorgeous building when we’re done,” he said.
The dispensary is just the first phase of construction Francis has planned for the property. The second phase includes putting another Country Smoke House outlet on the corner and building a CBD café that will sell infused products like coffee, gummy bears and dog treats.
If everything goes well, he hopes to break ground for the second phase of construction next spring, he said.
There are a few Mom’s Kitchen employees who will work for the dispensary and the dispensary will hire around six to 12 people, with an additional six to eight employees between the smoke house and CBD café. People interested in applying can do so in-person at the Country Smoke House at 3294 Van Dyke Road in Almont.
Francis said he doesn’t personally smoke marijuana but likes the medical aspect of it for people who have seizures or are going through cancer treatment.
He said people have the impression “everybody’s a pot head” who goes to a dispensary, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about getting people safe and quality product.
He said this business will be done very professionally for the city “and we won’t let them down.”
Around 28 years before Francis bought the building, an Eastern European immigrant couple purchased the building and opened a restaurant with hope and a dream.
But after 28 years of roof leaks and remodels, new directions and shutdowns, food creations and exploding spaghetti sauce, Mom’s Kitchen closed in July 2020.
Mira Varga, who opened the restaurant with her husband in 1992, said she retired a couple years ago and her daughter, Jelena Varga of Richmond, took it over when it became too much for her. But both were ready to move on and sell the restaurant when Francis approached them.
A dispensary is a big difference from a restaurant, and Varga wishes it stayed a restaurant for the community, but hopes Francis is successful with the time and money he’s investing in the building and corner.
“I have no doubt Steve is going to do something nice,” she said.
Varga is from Serbia, formerly Yugoslavia, and her family immigrated to the United States in 1974. They had decent lives but wanted to have the freedom to practice their religion, she said.
Even though they didn’t have restaurant experience they thought the business would be a good way to teach their kids good work ethic. If the business didn’t take off, they figured they would get money from the building improvements they made.
However it did take off with Varga’s home-style cooking. Customers started calling her “mom” and the restaurant found its name, Mom’s Kitchen.
“I was mom for half of Macomb County I guess,” Varga laughed.
But now Varga has bought a house in Richmond to be around her grandkids. She’s enjoying retirement, spending time with family and gardening, but she misses the restaurant.
Seeing people gather and enjoy themselves in the restaurant’s booths, “that was my happiness,” she said.
“Did we get rich? No. But I’m very rich by the experiences I had there,” Varga said.
Jelena Varga said in a written message that throughout the years she learned that as much as people did for them, they did for people as well, from buying local produce to hiring local teenagers, from working with school internship programs to donating to local events and charities.
“It’s all about a healthy balance and doing for others as you would want to have done for you,” she said.
She said they’re thankful they didn’t have to sell the building but chose to and pray that, as they’ve been impacted by the love and generosity from the community, the next owner will be as well.
A call and text to Memphis Mayor Kurt Marter requesting comment were not returned.