For a 'Silver Palate' spoon in your mouth, try this Saugatuck, Mich., inn


July 22, 1992|By John Tanasychuk | John Tanasychuk,Knight-Ridder News Service

SAUGATUCK, MICH. — A storm has taken the power from half the town, along with several tree branches around her lake-front home. And even though she's tried to bribe power company workers with her butterless chocolate chip cookies, Julee Rosso is still without electricity.

The cookies are lost on this crowd. Guess they don't know who they're dealing with: Julee Rosso is co-author of the second best-selling cookbook in the history of publishing, after "The Joy of Cooking."

"The Silver Palate Cookbook" (Workman, $9.95) has sold almost 2 million copies. Together, there are nearly 5 million copies in print of the three cookbooks written by Ms. Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Now, three years after their last book, Ms. Rosso is shifting her focus. She's worried about how guests at the Wickwood Inn, in Saugatuck, Mich., which she bought last December, will cope without power.

Bill Miller, her husband of three years, is refueling the generator every hour this Thursday afternoon, and he's been up all night as a volunteer with the fire department.

Looking at least 10 years younger than 48 and with the hubbub of the storm's aftermath still around her, Ms. Rosso is nonetheless ready to talk about how she ended up in this small resort town on Lake Michigan after 25 years in New York.

She didn't wake up one morning in her Greenwich Village apartment and say: "I'm getting out of here." Instead, it's mostly serendipity, a case of her life coming full circle.

Ms. Rosso grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., and graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in history, education and French. Two days after graduation in 1966, she headed to New York, where she worked in advertising and marketing for some of the biggest textile companies in the world. She left as a vice president and advertising director of Burlington Domestics in 1977 so that she and Ms. Lukins could open the Silver Palate on Columbus Avenue in New York, one of the first-ever gourmet take-out shops in the country.

Out of that came two cookbooks. She and Ms. Lukins sold the shop in 1988, and together they wrote their last book, "The New Basics" (Workman, $19.95).

But it was a personal rather than a professional calling that brought her back to Michigan.

Six Christmases ago, Ms. Rosso and her mother, June Rosso, were vacationing in Florence, Italy. Her mother fell, headfirst, off a curb. She was paralyzed immediately and needed emergency neurosurgery.

Her mother's illness caused Ms. Rosso to reconsider her life in New York.

She really, really reminded me that in New York, you get so caught up in stuff. . . . That people and fun are the most important things in life. And when I came back here, I remet Bill."

Bill Miller, 46, was a builder when they married. They met first in the early '70s when Ms. Rosso camehome with some of her girlfriends.

Although they hadn't seen each other for 13 years, Mr. Miller kept tabs on Ms. Rosso through her mother. The weekend after she'd sold the Silver Palate, Ms. Rosso was back in Saugatuck staying with her mother.

Mr. Miller popped by for a visit. Ms. Rosso offered him a glass of wine. "And then I started flirting unmercifully. I was just terrible. I just sort of threw myself at him. Four months later we were married."

Even then, Ms. Rosso thought, she could manage a long-distance marriage. She'd live in New York and Michigan and be married. But after "The New Basics," she had quite enough of New York but not enough of sunsets over Lake Michigan. She sold her apartment and moved to Saugatuck full-time.

Last summer, Ms. Rosso realized she wasn't the kind of person who could wake up every morning and have nothing better to do than read a book or go shopping.

So last fall, she and Mr. Miller approached their neighbors, Sue and Stub Louis, about buying the 11-

room, 11-bath Wickwood Inn. The Louises had opened it in 1981, the first bed and breakfast in Saugatuck.

The Rosso-Millers became owners in December, and the inn pretty much runs itself with a staff of 10 employees.

And all Ms. Rosso has had to do is fluff the place up a bit. She's added comforters and pillow shams, pique robes for summer and terry cloth for winter. She put bigger towels and bigger bars of soap in the bathrooms.

From her own home, she brought to the inn some of her art, including the photograph of Coco Chanel by Horst, and almost all of her blue and white pottery and lamps. "I went through a blue and white phase," she says.

The Wickwood Inn is more of a small European-style hotel than a bed and breakfast. "The dog doesn't go leaping through the living room," she says. Indeed, their dogs, Kelly and Black Jack, are at home. Each room has its own bath, and Ms. Rosso is quick to point out that they don't live in the house like many innkeepers do. But they're just five minutes away, and an innkeeper is on duty 24-hours a day.

And of course, there is good food. The Wickwood serves breakfast and hors d'oeuvres.

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