Popular restaurant Big Rock Chophouse closing its doors for good Dec. 18 – Oakland Press

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Tom and Betsy Decker hoped to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Big Rock Chophouse in Birmingham like they have for almost a decade.
The Royal Oak couple were surprised and saddened — like so many customers — to learn the top-tier steakhouse that’s hosted the likes of basketball legend Michael Jordan and rock star Kenny Loggins is closing its doors for good Saturday, Dec. 18.
“We did our 10-year vow renewal here,” Betsy said. “We’ve been coming here for so many years. We really enjoy the people, the service and the food. They know you here.”
In September, owners Norm and Bonnie LePage announced Big Rock was shutting down at the end of the year.
Located in the historic Birmingham Train Station, Big Rock opened in 1997. It’s also home to Got Rocks Diamond Crown Cigar Lounge upstairs. Previously, it was Norman’s Eton Street Station, also owned by the LePages, college sweethearts who’ve been married 57 years.
Once word got out Big Rock was closing, they were inundated with calls and emails. The number of guests has exploded as customers arrived to eat a final time at the restaurant famous for its award-winning steaks.
“Crazy. It’s absolutely crazy. We should’ve closed years ago,” Norm quipped. “We didn’t know people felt so strongly about this place.”
Not only do the LePages own Big Rock, but also the adjacent property, which includes an apartment building, a four-story parking garage, and The Reserve, a popular banquet venue. They sold everything to Kelly Building & Development Co. in Birmingham.
“It was just time,” Norm said. “People have been knocking on our door for years, wanting to buy this place. We had two amazing offers.” Added Bonnie: “We didn’t want to sell it in piecemeal. … If we stayed, this is a big property to run. … Every seven years, we’ve redone the place. Neither of us want to take that on. We wanted an exit strategy, so we wouldn’t leave our kids (Scott and Nicole) a property they wouldn’t be able to sell.”
They said people were surprised they were closing Big Rock instead of selling it.
“Let the new person do their own thing,” Norm said. “We don’t want to compromise Big Rock’s name and reputation.”
Vera Day-Rizer has been the general manager since the beginning and is a 40-year restaurant industry veteran. She was named the 2016 Michigan Restaurant Association’s General Manager of the Year.
“So many lifelong friends and relationships were made in this amazing, magical and beautiful building; she’s truly one of a kind,” Day-Rizer said. “I have been blessed and beyond grateful for Norm, Bonnie and my amazing team’s belief that made our dream.”
Bonnie noted, “People call Vera my sidekick.”
“Vera’s a superstar. She’s tough but fair,” Bonnie continued. “She treats the staff with kindness and respect and is willing to give them chances. At Big Rock, if you’re trained well, you’re treated well.”
Dorothy Schultz has been a server since 2006.
“Customers recommended that I come here and meet with Vera. I’ve been here ever since,” Schultz said. “Vera’s the heart and soul of this restaurant. The owners are very giving to their employees. Not many independent businesses offer a 401(K), health care, and paid vacations. Not many independent businesses go out of their way to take care of their employees. There’s usually high turnover (in this industry), but not here. … My customers and co-workers are like a second family; they’re loving, giving people. We go above and beyond for each other. I will miss them. As a server, I couldn’t have been more blessed.”
Executive Chef Eric Voigt has worked at Big Rock for 10 years. He said he’ll miss everything about it when it closes down.
“I love the property, l love Norm and Bonnie; they’re amazing. Everything about it — the nuances, the good memories, and all the opportunities,” he said. “I ate here when I was dating my wife. There’ve been a lot of dates here, a lot of great memories. … I loved being able to make people’s memories the best they could be. … There’s so many wonderful memories here.”
Detroit native Steve Koehler has dined at Big Rock every Friday since it first opened. In fact, he sits at the same table every week and introduced the restaurant to fellow priests Norm Nawrocki and Stanley Pachla, who agreed they’ll be sad to see it close.
“This place is what it is because of the staff,” Koehler said. “The food is superior because of the chef. Its ambience is beyond compare. The décor is unique. The old train station was converted into a restaurant. You can hear the rattle of the train.
“I’m grateful for the good times I’ve had here,” he said. “It’s a sign that an era has ended.”
Big Rock Chophouse, at 245 S. Eton St. in Birmingham, will be open for dinner and private events through Saturday, Dec. 18. Hours are 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed on Sunday and Monday. For more information or to make reservations, call 248-647-7774 or visit bigrockchophouse.com.
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