Hamming It Up at Lile's

When Today Show weather guy Al Roker was “in our neck of the woods” recently working on a TV documentary, he discovered Lile’s Ham Sandwich Shop in Dearborn



“His assistant came in and said, ‘Al Roker will be here shortly,’” owner Harry Lile recalls. Minutes later, Roker’s chauffer-driven car pulled to the curb.

“He was real personable, just like on TV,” Lile says. “I made him a good sandwich, ham on a poppy-seed Kaiser and a bowl of split-pea soup.”
Roker, who makes no secret of his zesty appetite, gave Lile’s a high-profile plug when he was back on the set in New York, saying, “I had the best ham sandwich in my life in Dearborn, Michigan.”

The only remaining evidence of Lile’s fleeting brush with network-level celebrity is a framed glossy of Roker on the diner wall.

All else is back to the basics.

Basic is a recipe that has served Lile’s well. Inside the small box of a building across from Dearborn City Hall, government suits mingle with UAW jackets. “Hi, Sweetie,” one regular says to a waitress. “You know what you need in this place? You need a place to take a nap.”

 


Then he orders from a menu with refreshingly minimal options: ham sandwich, corned-beef sandwich, turkey sandwich, American or Swiss cheese, bun or rye. The soups are bean or split pea. Orders are filled in seconds and placed on a red cafeteria-style tray.

Over the years, Lile’s has attracted a few other high-profile diners. Steve Yzerman is one, the owner says. The late Dearborn Mayor Michael Guido was a regular, and the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young stopped by.

“Coleman Young came in about 15 years ago,” Lile says. “He used to go to our place in Detroit, and one day he told his driver to keep going out Michigan Avenue until he found us.”

Harry Lile’s parents opened their first ham sandwich shop at Michigan and Grand River in Detroit in 1961. They added a second location on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn and later sold the Detroit spot.

Lile credits the restaurant’s longevity and loyalty to a simple recipe. “You have to have a quality product at a good price, and you gotta give people a little more than they can eat, not like a sandwich you can get anywhere or make at home,” he says. “I want people to remember us.”

Archive »Related Content

Mad Liberation

Web Exclusive: With sold out shows nationwide, metro Detroit DJ GRiZ plans to release his third album next fall.

Et Cetera

What's hot this month? Hour Detroit staff always come across random products or facts and figures that catch our attention.

Long Gone

Tiger Stadium isn't the Detroit area's only bygone baseball venue

The Way it Was - Opening Pitch at Briggs Stadium

End Game

As Detroiters continue to bask in Midtown's glow, community powerhouse Sue Mosey says there's plenty more work to do

Most Popular

  1. Raising the Bar
    From metro Detroit hails an online fundraising platform that's been redefining philanthropy on a...
  2. If You Build It Right, Millions Will Come
    How an arms race architect named Dave Dombrowski has taken the Detroit Tigers from helpless to...
  3. Honest and Well-Done
    Royal Oak's Trattoria Da Luigi isn't glamorous — just rustic, lovable...and marvelous
  4. Scene Stealer
    Detroit-born Broadway star Elaine Stritch still attracts — and charms — a crowd
  5. Fashion Meets Furniture
    Nigel Barker left N.Y. Fashion Week early to team up with Art Van
  6. Long Gone
    Tiger Stadium isn't the Detroit area's only bygone baseball venue
  7. Green is Good
    It's the time of the season for digging, pruning, and (maybe) planting
  8. Into the Deep
    n an underwater world of mystery and intrigue, an enchanting creature reveals the season's most...
  9. Bastone Brewery Turns 10
    Bastone Brewery has reached a milestone of 10 years in business. To celebrate their anniversary,...