Story and photo by Ken DeLaat
The idea was there long before it became a reality.
Linda Cudworth considered a number of options in the area and even gave a fleeting thought to a place she stumbled upon during a visit to Grand Marais.
But in the end Hit The Road Joe landed next door to her house in Croton.
That was 20 years ago when she was 50. Now 20 years later her daughter Tracy, known as Chef T, has taken the reins of the iconic restaurant that has been a gathering spot for a slew of regulars and a pleasant surprise for those who have discovered this haven of epicurean delights by accident, by design or by recommendation.
And she is now nearly 50, producing a fitting symmetry to the transition process
The eatery began life with just a drive through window, opened a small dining room soon after and since has seen additions to the dining area and the kitchen as well as the creation of an outdoor deck.
All the while maintaining the casual charm befitting this unique establishment overlooking an imaginative landscape in the heart of rural Newaygo County.
“I said I’d do it for 5 years then open a bait shop,” said Linda. “And now here we are fifteen years past the five I planned on.”
And now the torch has passed to her eldest daughter.
“These are huge shoes to fill and I can’t say enough good things about my Mother,” said Ms. Murrell. “She has been a true pioneer in our community. Her tenacity and hard work has created a ‘one of a kind’ business and I am so grateful for this opportunity.
“I look forward to growing and honoring her legacy.”
Tracy is no stranger to HTRJ. She started fairly soon after it’s opening working once a week and in recent years has used her extensive traveling to bring home recipes from around the globe. The international dinners held on occasion draw capacity crowds eager to sample her latest creations and her summertime takeout rib dinners are legendary for residents and summer folks alike.
Hit The Road Joe is in good hands and familiar hands at that.
“It will be the same vibe, the same feel with homemade organic offerings. Real food in a friendly atmosphere”
She and husband Chris will do more traveling and there will be more time to pursue some of her other interests.
“I could not have done this without the help of my sister Kendra, my three daughters, my husband and the incredible support from the community,” said Linda. “It’s been a great run.”
And fortunately for folks who enjoy a great meal in a welcoming venue…
The bait shop never happened.