Flint, MI—It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside of White Horse Tavern, but there’s a reward for the momentary blindness between daylight and the faint glow of the windowless bar: one of the warmest welcomes in Flint.
“Sometimes I just say hi back before I can see,” said Lisa Costello, a White Horse server. She pointed to a table nearest one of the tavern’s bright red entryway doors and smiled. “Regulars will be sitting there, saying hello, and I won’t even know who I’m talking to when I first get in.”
White Horse Tavern, or just “the White Horse” to its regulars, was opened by the Poulos family—John, Chris, and Steve—in September of 1973.
“Being a Greek family, our dad was the boss,” said Chris Poulos of his father, John, with a laugh. “There’s no question about it.”
Poulos said back then he and his brother Steve worked at the family’s vending business by day and took turns at the restaurant each night.
Their dad would sit at the round wood table staff still call “Table One,” Poulos recalled, holding court with patrons, local attorneys, and politicians as he slowly relinquished his management duties to his two boys.
But now, nearly 50 years later, the two brothers are also ready to relinquish their duties, and they’ve hired Flint-area broker, John ‘Biff’ Snyder, to manage the sale of their legacy.
“It’s just that they’re looking to retire,” Snyder said of why the pair decided to list the restaurant. “That’s pretty much the story. You’ve put 49 years in. Maybe it’s time to move on.”
Poulos agreed, though not because he has lost any love for the bar over the decades.
“The biggest thing is both my brother and I are in our seventies now, and you just can’t possibly put in the hours and do the things you did when you were in your forties and fifties,” Poulos said. “And it’s time to pass the baton, so-to-speak, because as hard as I try, I know that a younger person could do a little bit better—or a lot better.”
The White Horse is listed at $800,000, which Poulos said will include not just the building and licensing, but all its history and decor.
“Everything is going to stay,” Poulos said. “I’m not going to take anything down.”
That includes a diver’s helmet that Poulos turned into a lamp, the “smoke eater” machines still hanging on the walls from when cigarettes were allowed indoors, and the pizza ovens that were replaced just a couple of years ago.
But even if the new owner doesn’t keep all of the White Horse’s memorabilia, Poulos said, he does hope they will keep his team.
“My staff is part of the White Horse every bit as much as I am,” Poulos said, beginning to list everyone by name. Mercedes, who works nights, has been with us for 45, maybe 46 years, he said, and Lisa and Tammy always know what’s going on in the bar.
“So it would be silly for a guy to come in and say ‘okay, you’re all done,’” Poulos concluded. “Because [my staff] know the people, they know the systems.”
Snyder said there isn’t yet a clear buyer for the White Horse, though he’s received promising interest since listing the sale publicly in April.
“We have our hope that it’s just a smooth transition,” Snyder said of the future deal. “Why change a winning way of doing things?”