By Derek Smith
The Bajis Family… A Brief History
The Tally Ho Inn was the concept of Greek immigrants Frank and Bessie Bajis. Frank Bajis (Bachacas)was orphaned as a child in Pergamon, Turkey, a city with a population of 61,000 people located 16 miles from the Aegean Sea coastline Izmir Province. He would later grow up in Mytilini, a city on the Greek island of Lesbos, near the coast of Turkey. There Frank met and married his wife Bessie, and there they would begin their life together, a union which lasted for over 50 years and thousands of miles.
Together, they fled Greece during WW 1 and began their immigration to the United States, only to be stranded in Argentina for several years. A Son, George F Bajis, was born in Uruguay during their time in South America. From there, they traveled to Chile, where a son Constantino was born. The family would finally later arrive in Massachusetts in 1920 and, after several moves, eventually, settle in Port Huron. I do not know why they chose the Port Huron area, but we “foodies” are very thankful for that decision.
Frank and Bessie’s youngest son was born Constantino Venizelos Bachacas on August 12th, 1917, in Antofagasta, Chile. Constantino would later be christened John Bajis, a name that presented itself as more user friendly to his classmates at Harrison school.
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George and John Bajis’ early childhood memories included riding the Port Huron and Detroit streetcar from the depot on Military Street and traveling to Detroit on the 306 foot Tashmoo. When back at the dock, located at the foot of Grand River, John, brother George, and their friends would dive for coins thrown from the deck of the Tashmoo into the fast-moving waters of the St Clair River. Some of these young divers would have pockets sewn into their bathing suites where they stored their silvery treasures; others would clench the coins in their teeth, hoping not to swallow their booty and choke.
From 1932 to 1934, John Bajis’ lived with his parents and brother George on the second floor of 932 Military Street. Today’s address is better known today as The Raven Coffee House, one of Port Huron’s oldest buildings built during the civil war era.
This address found itself partially repurposed as a distillery making mastica, a Greek liqueur, formed from a mash of raisins, sugar, and water during prohibition. The spent mash from the distillation process was lowered to the street in fire buckets and distributed into the garbage cans of nearby unwary neighbors.
Most of Frank’s customers were fellow Greeks. They would come to 932 Military for card games, mastica, and Greek coffee. Sons John and George would earn tips by serving coffee, mastica, and running various errands for the visitors to that location.
During these dry times, Port Huron, Marysville, St Clair, and other cities and towns along the Canadian/US border were access points for Canadian liquor smugglers.
Frank Bajis would open a hotdog stand at Military and Pine, which would eventually grow into a restaurant in the Burke Hotel located at 941 Military Street.
Frank and his son John would operate the eatery for about 10 years.
The Great Depression, which began in 1929, would bankrupt Frank’s bank, along with Frank’s savings in that bank, and eventually dash his chances for business success at the Burke Hotel.
In 1939 Frank Bajis and his wife Bessie opened the Tally Ho restaurant in a cottage the family had jointly purchased in North Lakeport. Their son John would enlist in the Army Air Corps during the early 1940s, as the United States became involved in World War 2. He would serve 6 years in such places as the United States, England, France, and Belgium, and he became the Group Ordinance Inspector for the 409th bomber group. After his military career, John used the GI Bill to study art in San Francisco, returning to assist with the family business in Lakeport. As the restaurant grew in popularity and John’s parents grew older, he decided to return to Lakeport and join the family restaurant full time.
John would marry June Bajis’, and together, they would have three daughters, Kate, Jennifer, and Elizabeth.
John Bajis was a steadfast Republican and served as chairman of the St Clair County Republican Party and served on the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers.
John and his wife June would eventually divorce. John then married Dr. Lynn Friday, a veterinarian in Lexington.
John’s older brother, George, would become an executive with the Port Huron Sulphite and Paper Co, transitioning into the Port Huron Paper Company. He would marry Barbara Kiefer, whose father Edgar founded the original Port Huron Yacht Club in 1923. I will discuss the Kiefer family in future writings as the Kiefer family is a story in its own right.
Later in his career, George owned and operated the “The Grog Shop,” located at 1008 Lapeer Avenue in Port Huron. It would meet its fate at the hands of fire, like so many other buildings back in the day.
George and Barbara would have seven children.
William was the youngest child of the seven. William met his wife Susan through Moose International at a district picnic in Escondido, Ca.
Susan is a native Californian, born on Camp Pendleton, where her father Jerry Bongiorno was stationed in the Marine Corp.
Later in life, Susan was employed as an accountant in the busy construction industry of Southern California.
William and Susan were married on October 11th, 2012. A few years later, in 2017, they moved to North Lakeport with the hopes of restoring the family restaurant and bringing it back into the culinary arts of the Bajis family.
The Tally Ho
The word “Tally Ho” is a cry from the huntsman to his fellow hunters indicating that quarry has been spotted and you can start to give chase.
Since this story is about restaurants and bars named the Tally Ho, I could not resist slipping these two articles into this writing. It is from Feb 1961 in Huntley, England. I do not know what happened to the horse. I believe the fox was found hiding in a bar in Oxford.
The Bajis family chose the name Tally Ho to attract horse fanciers. Harvey H Johnston owned a riding stable and the Lakeport Roller Rink just south of the restaurant. It was thought that the name Tally Ho would bring some of his Harvey’s horse customers into the Tally Ho for a bite of lunch or a pint of beer. Several friends have asked me about the restaurant name, so now you know.
The Tally Ho became known for its great American/Greek cuisine and its “sing-along” nights. Mousike or music, dance, good food, and libation always have an integral part of Greek heritage. The Bajis family brought all of that with them when they opened the Tally Ho.
Here are some early books of the song given to the many patrons who chose to test their voices as the night crept into the wee hours. For those of us who fall into the “age challenged” category, do you remember these nostalgic sing-along favorites, “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes” or “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”?
These songs sounded much better the night before then they did the morning after, but the memories are still great!
The Tally Ho had three player piano and lots of guest singers over its many years of song. Some of these entertainers would become crowd favorites. These singers included Don Stein, Bob Shneider, Jim Cox, and Mel Nikula. Don passed away on September 30, 2005. Mel, now in his nineties, was a math teacher in Port Huron and currently resides in Florida.
With particular reference to the “Outside Port Huron” ad, where else could you “restaurant” in North America, roasting your own “ pitchfork puppy” on a Devil’s 3 prongs. What a great idea, especially when washed down with a cold brewski! I would imagine this took place at a fireside pit located just outside the restaurant—T-Bone for $3.25 hmmmmmm.
Bessie Bajis brought some of her family’s favorite Greek recipes, recipes that had been passed down through generations, onto the tables of the Tally Ho. Her Greek salad is very well known and has been thoroughly enjoyed by hundreds of patrons over the last eight decades. In Fact, her salad has garnered such a good reputation it is on the menu of The Raven Café under the heading the “Haunted Palace Classic Greek Salad” with a courtesy side note to John Bajis and the Tally Ho.
In 1955 the restaurant was re-modeled featuring a new dining room. John Bajis can be seen in this picture below, planting a new sign to advertise this event. In that same year, they were celebrating their 15th anniversary. Fifteen years of continuous business in the food industry is quite an achievement as margins are not large, and the days are long and stressful.
I am sure John Bajis and his family “wore more than just one hat” during their years of operation.
After some 40 years in business John Bajis first sold the Tally Ho in 1979 .
Over the years since that time, the Tally Ho has been operated by multiple buyers, buyers who intended to continue the great atmosphere and good food found at the inn.
Unfortunately or fortunately, for many different reasons, the Tally Ho would end up back with the people who knew it best, the John Bajis family.
The inn was closed during the years of 1997 to 1999.
In the summer of 1999, Timothy Chase and his wife Rochelle would purchase the property and complete renovations for a re-opening in July of that year.
The Chase family’s renovations maintained the “lodge Like” comfortable atmosphere of the Tally Ho. They updated the menu, careful not to disturb the famous Greek salad, but they added some new meat and fish entrees.
The sing-alongs with Mel Nikula continued every Friday and Saturday night. Guests were also given various other activities such as darts, cards, billiards, or simply entertaining themselves in front of a cozy fire.
Suzy Campau was the new chef, and the Village Bakery in Lexington ran the catering end of the restaurant.
In the fall of 2002, the Tally Ho enclosed its “three-season porch,” turning it into a year round space that would accommodate up to 28 guests.
From 2002 up to the present, the Tally Ho has undergone further management/ownership changes.
As I mentioned earlier, since 2017, the Tally Ho management returned to the capable hands of the Bajis family. On December 1st, 2020, William and his wife Susan completed the purchase of the property.
The Bajis family is pleased to have the facility back in the family fold. They are sure that John, George, Frank and Bessie Bajis, and the rest of the family look down at them with smiling faces and proud hearts.
William and Susan’s efforts to the Tally Ho have included new paint, carpet, and bar stools. They have replaced the cabinets behind the bar and completely reinforced the understructure and flooring in the bar area. The bar’s mirror has been professionally cleaned, and new seat cushions have been added to the booths in the main eating area.
The Bajis family is a family of veterans, having proudly served their country over many years.
John Bajis, John’s wife June, Brother George, William’s father George, Brother Michael, William, and now William’s daughter who serves in the army at Ft Hood have all seen service in different military areas.
In honor of the military, William and Susan have set up a special veteran’s table.
Once a week every year, this table is reserved for all our brave veterans, both living and gone, in remembrance of the sacrifices they made so that we can enjoy the democratic freedoms found in this Great Republic of America.
William and Susan will continue the tradition of karaoke every other Saturday night.
This event is currently cancelled due to the horrible covid-19 virus.
They will also continue their usual “Fish Fridays,” “Taco Tuesdays,” steak, perch, and pickerel entrees, and their famous Greek salad available as regular menu items.
Wednesday nights is lady’s night with appetizers at half-price.
You can view the menu on facebook’s …Tally Ho Bar and Gril’ (one L)
Currently orders are take-out only, until the State of Michigan relaxes its indoor dining restrictions.
The Tally Ho Inn is located at 7933 Lakeshore Road North Lakeport.
All their food is prepared using locally grown produce, when available. All meats, poultry, and fish are also purchased fresh from local vendors.
Lately, I have enjoyed a few meals at the Tally Ho, and I would rate the food “top drawer” and the prices very reasonable.
On a special note, this covid-19 virus has presented our local restaurants with some incredible challenges. In light of this, our family has decided to order at least one take out meal every week from one of our favorite restaurants. We hope that our weekly purchase will help the local food entrepreneurs through this difficult time.
Greeks are known for their long lifespans, and the Bajis family is no exception. Perhaps it is access to good healthcare, the Mediterranean diet, or the Greek olive oil. I am swayed towards thinking it is the mastica, just like the hand-crafted variety made at 932 Military Street.
Thanks to the Bajis families for the great food and good times at the Tally Ho over these last eighty years. Special thanks for sharing your story!