A fixture on the coast of downtown Grand Haven, the Pronto Pups stand has undergone few, if any, changes since it sold its first pup 68 years ago. And second generation owner Carl Nelson is just fine with that.
“We only serve one thing, so when you walk up to the window we don’t ask you what you want, we ask you how many you want,” Nelson said. “There’ll never be anything more or anything less. The system we have right now is a well-oiled machine.”
It’s hard to argue with Nelson’s logic when you’ve had the longevity that Pronto Pups, located at 313 S Harbor Dr, has achieved decade after decade. Although the stand exclusively serves pronto pups (a highly superior corndog) and soft drinks sans ice, it has become an institution to West Michiganders and beyond.
“We have people take day trips from Chicago on their motorcycles and then head back home,” said Nelson. “We get a phone call at 10 o’clock in the morning asking, ‘are you open today?’ Absolutely.”
The stand was first opened in 1947 by the Nelson family, inspired by a similar venture they saw during a visit in Florida. Carl Nelson’s father, Chuck Nelson, eventually became sole proprietor of the stand. It became a hot spot near the boardwalk in the then nearly vacant downtown area. It also evolved into a treasured family heirloom.
“I started working in eighth grade,” reminisced Carl Nelson. “It’s fun! Actually, I can’t say it’s a job. It’s a good paying hobby. I spent my summer vacations there. I got paid to hang out where everybody was anyway.”
A sentiment Nelson’s own daughters now share, as employees of the stand themselves and future owners. The family-focused attitude and bustling location is a recipe for a good time. Despite having nearly constant lines, the stand’s patrons and staff work together in making the experience.
“Long before the saying ‘pay it forward’ came about, our customers were ordering ten or 15 and taking them halfway down the line to just hand them to random people,” said Nelson. “At the stand people are always smiling, in a good mood. They’re just ecstatic they’re eating a couple of Pronto Pups. It still blows me away how people react to this stuff.”
“I guess I get it, though,” he added. “I’ve been eating them my whole life.”