Richard “Dick” Graves — who retired in March after 40 years of running the concession stand at Pier Park — poses with a tray and beverage cups at  one of the windows where  customers get their orders.

Richard “Dick” Graves — who retired in March after 40 years of running the concession stand at Pier Park — poses with a tray and beverage cups at one of the windows where customers get their orders.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Longtime Farms concession stand operator offered stellar service with a smile

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 9, 2021

  At top, the concession stand at Pier Park in Grosse Pointe Farms was run down when Graves acquired it in 1980. Below, Graves spruced  up the exterior and interior  of the building before  opening to customers.

At top, the concession stand at Pier Park in Grosse Pointe Farms was run down when Graves acquired it in 1980. Below, Graves spruced up the exterior and interior of the building before opening to customers.

Photo provided by Richard Graves


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — When Grosse Pointe Farms resident Richard “Dick” Graves Jr. took over the concession stand at Pier Park in 1980, the building was a worn-down structure that had few customers and had earned the moniker of “The Shack.”

Graves’ first task was to spruce up the place, paneling the unfinished interior walls, adding compressed wood siding to dress up the exterior and planting flowers around the building. He even started mowing the grass around the building, which made it a popular spot for sunbathers to plop down a towel and soak up some rays. But it was the food that made the concession stand a destination.

“He took his position seriously and provided the best-quality product and the best burgers in town, really,” City Manager Shane Reeside said. “His french fries were a rite of summer and something Grosse Pointe Farms residents looked forward to every year.”

It’s a tradition that will now take its place in the city’s history. In late March, Graves, who’s in his 60s, announced that he was retiring from running the concession stand after 40 years. It wasn’t known at press time who might be taking over concession stand operations.

“It’s just time,” said Graves, who will continue his full-time real estate career with Higbie Maxon Agney. “I’ve been in the (hospitality) business for 50 years.”

Graves, who grew up in the Farms, found his calling early, getting a job parking cars for the Roostertail after high school. After he beautified and repaired the valet area on his own time and with his own money — theorizing that, as the first spot customers see, it should be as impressive as the event venue itself — he was quickly promoted to management. But while Graves enjoyed the work — “Hospitality was my niche,” he said — he didn’t love the long, late nights. When the concession stand contract became available, Graves saw an opportunity to continue in the service industry without arriving home from work at 4 a.m.

“I’m a people person,” Graves said. “I love the little kids who come up here (to the stand) and their nose just touches the edge of the counter. … I love the kids. Last year, I was serving parents that were 5 years old when I started. Now, they’re 35 years old and they have a 5-year-old.”

Graves said parents would introduce their children to him and recall their own memories of visiting the concession stand for ice cream or a candy bar when they were young.

“You get to know all of those people,” Graves said. “This was another family for me. That’s what I’ll miss the most.”

Graves doesn’t have children of his own — although he’s a doting uncle — but he became a surrogate dad to the teens who worked in the concession stand each summer. The interior of the concession stand features small artworks and doodles by the students, and above the concession stand service windows, each teen created a permanent nametag commemorating their service.

“My kids loved coming to work,” Graves said. “They called this their happy place.”

Besides the concession stand, Graves has become synonymous with the Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo, which he ran for years as a volunteer. The 71st fishing rodeo took place in August 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event. At press time, the Farms was hoping to hold the fishing rodeo again this August, but that will depend on the scope of the pandemic.

The largest longtime event in the Pointes, the fishing rodeo has attracted record crowds in recent years — about 1,500 in 2018 alone — and has become something generations of families have looked forward to each year. Adults and kids had the chance to win prizes like bikes and TVs, and every child was able to select a substantial toy to take home.

Little has changed in the fishing rodeo since Graves’ late father, Richard Graves Sr., launched the event with the assistance of a handful of police officers and firefighters from the City and Farms, including police officer Joe Miller.

Richard Graves Jr. wasn’t even born yet when this event started, nor were his younger brother, Thomas, a doctor, and sister, Marilyn, who works in a mammography center; he’s the oldest of his siblings. Graves Jr. had been organizing the event since his father’s death in 1986. Even before then, Graves said he used to help his dad, and as a boy himself, he fondly recalled how much he looked forward to the fishing rodeo each year. He said he loved seeing the table of prizes when he was a boy, and as the event organizer, he loved seeing kids who were as awestruck as he was.

Graves said he’ll no longer be running the fishing rodeo, but he’d like to stay on in some capacity.

“I’m hoping he continues to be a part of it for years to come,” Reeside said. “Thousands of Grosse Pointe Farms kids have participated in the fishing rodeo. For some of them, it was the only opportunity to go fishing. To see the excitement and joy Dick has brought to our youth over the years has been inspiring.”

Former Parks and Recreation Director Richard “Dick” Huhn, who retired in 2016 after 30 years with the city, was impressed by Graves’ work at the concession stand and for the fishing rodeo, and called him “one in a million.”

“What he did with the fishing rodeo was phenomenal,” Huhn said. “He brought it to new heights. That’s a lot of work. A lot of people don’t realize how much time he put into it.”

City Councilman and former Mayor James Farquhar, who has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee for decades, remembers sitting with Graves at the park and talking about how to make it an even better amenity.

“Status quo is OK, I guess, but I wanted to make things better,” Farquhar said. “Dick was the same way. … A lot of people don’t realize how much he cared for the community.”

In 1998, Graves had a new, slightly larger concession stand built.

“It was really something to watch it grow,” Graves said. “It was very satisfying to me.”

Graves, who aced all of his Health Department exams, was fastidious about the concession stand, and his food was fresh and cooked to order.

“Dick is a perfectionist,” Huhn said. “He wanted things done a certain way and done right. He wanted to provide good service and good product. He was very conscientious.”

Graves, who’s from a tightknit family, also has a close circle of friends he’s known since they attended St. Paul on the Lake Catholic School in the Farms. Kevin Crowther, of St. Clair Shores, one of those friends, said he and Graves have been pals for almost 60 years.

“He’s the best,” Crowther said. “He’s a loyal friend, and he’s a loyal employee to the city because he always tried to do his best.”

Graves, who loves to travel and has been all over the world, hopes to spend more time with family and friends when he isn’t selling homes.

Mayor Louis Theros is among the many who’ll miss Graves.

“The Farms was fortunate to have Dick serve it and its citizens for so many decades,” Theros said by email. “He served the snack bar’s famous fries and burgers to multiple generations of the same families. My first encounter with Dick was when my oldest son, now 22 years old, participated in his first fishing rodeo at just 3 years old. Dick, and his extended family, ran this family-favorite event like clockwork. My son still remembers getting his first fish weighed and winning a raffle prize. Dick will be missed, but I know he will still be around and involved.”