Restaurants reshuffling in Houghton

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Michelle O’Connor (center) cuts the grand opening ribbon at her latest Papa Murphy’s location with Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce members and new employees.

HOUGHTON — The restaurant market has been one of changing faces for the year of 2017.

At least three new businesses have opened and one has closed it’s doors, all at the tail end of the year.

The Houghton Hardee’s location abruptly closed on Nov. 14. City Manager Eric Waara said the city so far has not heard of any plans for another restaurant opening at that location.

Replacing it is a new Papa Murphy’s location near Walmart. The new pizza place held its grand opening Wednesday and is now open for business.

This is the fourth Papa Murphy’s location in the Upper Peninsula for franchisee Michelle O’Connor. O’Connor has locations in Escanaba, Iron Mountain and Marquette. She saw a clear demand for a location in Houghton, and customers frequently would ask when a store would go in.

“We’ve heard that repeatedly,” O’Connor said.

With Papa Murphy’s market for fresh take-home pizza, O’Connor expects business to go well.

There has been a wonderful community response, she said. It was “very welcoming. We haven’t heard a single negative word from anyone, all positive vibes,” O’Connor said.

She began her journey as a franchisee in 2003 after leaving a career in social work for one that would allow her to be more flexible and spend time with her family.

“I love it. And the people I get to work with the managers have been around for a lot of years they love it, too. We have fun together,” O’Connor said.

Earlier in the year, another business opened in downtown Houghton, this one a small high-end restaurant called Sky Sushi.

Owner Curly Zhang opened the location in October with her chef husband, returning to the town she studied in and putting her Michigan Tech economics degree into action.

“I just decided to open my own, start my own business. He’s a really good chef, so I had the opportunity to open one here,” Zhang said.

“I know a lot of people here, so I want to give (them) a chance to eat really good food,” Zhang said.

Her friends pleaded with her to open a Houghton location after trying sushi at the couple’s larger Chicago restaurant.

“I want to keep the smaller size. That way I can talk to each customer. It’s not just a restaurant,” Zhang explained.

The third new restaurant went in early this year — an addition to the Continental Fire Company nightclub. Now lunches and dinners are served, expanding the Continental’s offering.