The Coral Shop: Pasties and Homemade Pies

November 18, 2020
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Original ownership of The Coral Shop

Irene (Urmas) Beiring purchased the Coral Shop in 1944 with the help of Mike Kerban (her brother-in-law) and her stepdad, Christ Kirkeby.  She was single when she bought it from Cora and Al Coltman. Cora and Al had combined their names for the naming of their business – The Coral Shop. 

1950 Coral Shop

The history of the building is uncertain, but on the side of the building was painted a large black and white sign, which stated it was a Doll Hospital.  It is also unclear when the Coltman’s owned The Coral Shop, though we have a calendar indicating that the Coral Shop was operating in the 1930s.  We do know that Cora made pasties and lived upstairs. When Irene was 19 years old in 1939, she started working at The Coral Shop as a waitress.  Cora also taught Irene how to make pasties.  Thus, it was natural for Irene when she purchased the restaurant/pasty Shop in 1944 that she would continue making pasties.

She kept the name “The Coral Shop.”  The name, The Coral Shop, also provided her the inspiration for the name of her oldest daughter, Coral.

To make payments back to her brother-in-law and stepfather, Irene rented the upstairs to several of the Beiring sisters.  She and her friend, Mary Blessant, had beds downstairs with a blanket hanging on a rod to separate their beds from where they made their sandwiches and washed dishes.  During the war years, Irene’s two sisters would often give her their ration cards so that she might be able to purchase the needed ingredients to make pasties.

Joint Owners of the Coral Shop: Irene Urmas Meets Ed Beiring

Irene met Ed Beiring through his sisters, who rented from her and lived upstairs.  Irene and Ed quickly became interested in each other.  But then Ed joined the Army just before World War II and was stationed in Hawaii at Hickam Field. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Ed was wounded during the bombing and strafing raids on the airfield. He was patched up and spent the rest of his Army years in the Pacific theater of war.  Ed and Irene wrote faithfully to each other during the war years. After Ed was discharged finally in 1945, he and Irene got married.  Initially, Ed worked for Kirkish Grocery in downtown Hancock but ultimately decided to join Irene in the restaurant business.  

Ed Beiring making coffee at the Coral Shop

During Ed’s initial year in the war, he was a belly gunner in the airplane and always got airsick.  He requested a transfer to another duty.  The Army needed cooks, and Ed volunteered to cook.  He spent the rest of the war cooking as he hopped through the various islands in the Pacific.  When Ed joined Irene at The Coral Shop, he brought years of cooking experience for large groups of people. 

From Irene, though, he learned how to make pasties, and for the remaining 41 years of their joint ownership, he was the chief cook, waiter, and bottle washer. 

The Coral Shop: A Family Affair

The Coral Shop was a family affair with each of the four children (Michael, Coral, Francis, and Patty) being taught the trade of behind the scenes work that made the pasty business, the service of patrons, and the running of a restaurant possible.  Whether it was peeling potatoes or washing dishing, sweeping the floors, or cleaning ashtrays, each of the children participated. Excellent work ethics were taught.  Learning to tally up bills and run the cash register was expected from each child.  How to interact with the patrons was a must.  

The family lived upstairs of the restaurant, and during the early 1950s, Ed and Irene made their first significant investment in the building, adding a large addition to the back of the building, which housed additional bedrooms and a large playroom for the children.  In early 1961, a major remodeling of the front and interior of the Coral Shop occurred, which is how it looks from the outside today. Upon retirement in 1982, Ed and Irene sold the Coral Shop to Rudy Gemignani, who wished to change the restaurant into an Italian restaurant. 

Coral Shop on the Left, Cuff's TV and Van on the Right

The Coral Shop and the 500 Block of Hancock

As you look at the pictures of the Coral Shop, one door led to the restaurant, and the right-side door led to their upstairs home.  Before remodeling, the window on the right upstairs was a bedroom,  which their son Michael occupied, and the window on the left was the living room. The front of the building changed after the remodeling of 1961, which eliminated the front bedroom and made a large living room with the big picture window, which allowed the family to sit and watch the traffic all the way downtown.

The building next door to the right of the Coral Shop was Cuff’s TV.   Fran Cuff was the owner, and his son Frank worked with him.  They fixed and sold televisions, radios, and record players.  They had a TV in the front window with speakers outside so people could see and hear a program.  Many times the neighborhood kids would take little chairs, sit out in front of the store, and watch cartoons.  On the left side was Watia’s Funeral Home with their living arrangements above the Funeral Home.  They had a TV also, and the neighborhood kids would all pile in their backroom to watch it.  They also had a player piano, which all loved to play.  

Fran and Frank Cuff were very close friends of the Beiring family.  When Coral was working at the Shop by herself, and someone came in that frightened her, she would call Cuffs, and Frank or Fran would run over and stay with her.  She did call them a few times.

Just up the street on the 500 Block was Ernie’s Bakery, where most of the daily fresh bakery came from that the coffee customers came to enjoy.  Running low on bakery, all that was needed was a phone call, and one of the kids would walk up the street and pick up the order and bring it back and fill the donut display where the fresh pies were also displayed.

A few doors down was the Barber Shop, first owned by Hubbie Martin,  and then owned by the Monticello brothers, who renamed it the Gentlemen’s Choice Barber Shop.

Patrons of The Coral Shop

Ed talking with patrons of the shop

Growing up in the 50s in the Coral Shop, many of the patrons were people from the Catholic School right across the street, Hancock High School, and young men from the Lutheran Seminary at Suomi College (now Finlandia University), all three were within a block of the restaurant. Always there were the coffee clutch men who came by at 10 am for their 15-minute coffee break and then again around 2:30 pm for their afternoon coffee break.  Within minutes, the restaurant would be filled with people and then poof, everyone was gone.  It was bedlam at this time, and many men would simply come in and fill their own cups with coffee and sit down.  Lunchtime was like this also with two groups converging, one at 12 pm from the schools and the other around 12:30 from businesspeople in town.  In between these rush moments, all else had to take place, including taking orders for pasties over the phone, waiting on other patrons, washing dishes, cleaning up, and getting ready for the next rush.  

What made the Coral Shop so unique was the rush hour craziness and some of the unbelievable activities of the patrons.  People who were regulars would come in the back and get their drinks and, at times, even begin their own sandwiches or pick up a bag of potato chips.  At times, when it came time to pay, they already knew what the amount would be and just leave the amount on the cash register.  Other times, they would not have correct change, and then with the money on the cash register, they would make their own change.  Many of the school kids put their food on a tab, and their parents would stop by to pay at the end of the week. It was amazing that young people were trusted and didn’t abuse the trust.  Both Ed and Irene had a rapport with the young people that involved trust and respect.  Seldom were these lines ever crossed.  If the restaurant was too full, some of the patrons would eat in the back room at a small table.

One example of how young people respected Ed is in the story of a young man who was to go to a prom and didn’t know how to tie his tie.  He came in and asked Ed if he could help him with this problem.  Ed took him in the back room and proceeded to teach him how to tie his tie.  This was a simple time of many such events that occurred.  Another example would be when he knew someone was hungry and would send one of his kids with a bag full of sandwiches or a pasty to the home and deliver “courtesy of Ed.” 

In the picture, several patrons are being served in the 1950s.  Notice the walls and the old booths.  The red booths were wood with high backs.  On the ends of the booths, there were hooks to hang your coats and hats.  You can also spot the old napkin holders, which were green and made of metal.  

Coral states, “Oh, the hours that we have spent with our hands in the sink doing dishes.  The first sink was the soapy water, the second was clean water to rinse the dishes, and the third sink was heated water with a gas flame under it to keep the water at a certain temperature.  We also added a sanitizer to the water.  After all this, we would drain them and then put them on a clean, dry cloth to dry.”

Making Pasties – the Process

Ed making pasties

The process of making pasties began with prep work – the peeling of potatoes and onions and the making of the dough.  Then with a cast iron Universal #3 grinder, all the ingredients were ground up: so many potatoes, onions, and rutabaga per pasty.  Then the ingredients and spices were hand-mixed with the pasty meat.  The dough was rolled out with a glass rolling pin, placed on the well-serviced pie tins, then filled with the mixed ingredients.  Finally, two pasties to a pie tin and placed in the big oven until cooked through and through.  Finally, when they were done, they were taken out of the tins and placed in rows upon a special paper and covered with clean cloth towels.  If people wanted them hot, they were placed in the third level of the oven for several minutes and served on a plate with ketchup.  Many people wanted them cooled down, and this would take about 30 minutes of being out of the oven.   Ed also froze many pasties as people were always coming in and ordering frozen pasties that they would take home when they left for downstate Michigan.  He had a way of wrapping them in paper and then in a box with lots of paper.  The pasties could stay frozen this way for about 12 hours.

The Closing of the Coral Shop

The Coral Shop closed on September 1, 1982.  A day-long retirement party at the Coral Shop had old customers and friends stopping by all day to say good-bye and to have their final cup of coffee.  Each shared their reminisces of all the good times they had.

How Others Viewed the Coral Shop

An interesting article appeared in The Lode, the Michigan Technological University paper, about one of their staff reporters, Drew Isola, who was invited by a friend to visit The Coral Shop.  The article Drew wrote was entitled, “The Coral Shop is a Union alternative.”  The Union was the University’s coffee shop on campus. 

 Ed and Kathy Beiring talking with patrons of the shop

I was hitching home about a week ago and a friend of mine picked me up.  Actually, my friend was riding in the back and his friend was driving.  I asked them where they were headed.  They said that they were going out for lunch.  It was a nice day and I didn’t really want to go home so I tagged along.  Being a curious person, I inquired as to where we were planning to eat.

“The Coral Shop,” they replied.

“Oh,” I said, then after a moment of reflection, “where’s The Coral Shop?” I asked.

“It’s a little place in Hancock, that’s only open for breakfast and lunch,” was the reply.

“Oh,” I said.  After a little more thought I asked, “They don’t serve beer do they?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, too bad, I could have used a beer,” I added.

“You’ll like it,” they said, “it’s run by a little old man who makes great pasties.”

“Oh, “I said, at least it sounded like it would be half-way decent.

You’ve probably all seen “The Coral Shop” at one time or another and not even known it.  It’s in Hancock, across U.S. 41 from the high school.  It has a little pink sign out front that says “The Coral Shop, Homemade pasties.”  I’ve always thought that it was an antique shop that sold pasties, too.

It turned out to be a small café that had about six tables and a counter.  A tall, thin, old man, with Coke bottle glasses, came dashing out of the kitchen.  Wiped his hands on his apron.  Grabbed a pencil and a pad of paper; and said “What’llyouhavefellers?” that fast.  We made it easy on him and ordered four pasties and four chocolate malts.  He grinned, said “O.K.,” and dashed back into the kitchen.  

Phil Kukkonen talking with Ed and Coral Beiring

He came back with two pop bottles of red pop and a straw in each for the people at the table next to us.  He disappeared and returned with four plastic cafeteria-style glasses that were empty except for the red and white straws.

When we got our malts we each got the metal mixing container they were mixed-in with enough thick malt to fill our glasses twice.  Not bad for 90 cents.  The pasties were a little smaller than the Union’s but better quality.  They had a surprisingly thin crust which I think is better than the thick kind.  Besides that they were only $1.25 apiece.

It’s a great little place for lunch and the old guy that runs the place manages to give you service with a smile, cook the food, and play craps in between orders.  So if and when you should ever become sick of the Union, go and give it a try.”                                                                                                    

Final Thoughts

In the above article, there is an off-handed remark about playing craps.  Ed loved to gamble, but Irene put a stop to this habit.  But Ed found sneaky ways around it all the time.  During the 1950s, he started with punchboards in the shop, which eventually became illegal.   Then Ed added a shuffleboard which he played against other men. The loser had to buy coffee and, at times, a sweet-roll.  Then he came up with an idea to include more men at one time and was quicker.  He had four dice in a leather container underneath the counter, and he and the men would roll.  High number would pay.  It was the central activity of the 10 and 2:30 coffee break.  He didn’t allow any of the children to roll the dice.  Only he was allowed.  Everyone thought it was great and added a degree of excitement to the humdrum of everyday life.  Of course, if he didn’t lose, the other party would have to buy his coffee.  It was fun, and these memories were part of the reminisces when The Coral Shop closed down.  The Coral Shop is now owned by Gemignani and is an Italian restaurant.

Mary Beiring holding baby Paul Beiring in 1981
Calendar from the original owner Al and Cora Coltman in 1933


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