"IT BROUGHT HIM PERSONAL SATISFACTION TO HAVE A RESTAURANT WHERE PEOPLE COULD COME TO BREAK BREAD TOGETHER, TO LAUGH TOGETHER, TO CRY TOGETHER AND TO SHARE LIFE TOGETHER."
Arne Fahlen was born in Sweden, where his father helped develop his talent for baking. He attended pastry school in Switzerland before moving to Chicago in 1952. He and his wife, Marilyn, married the following year.
"He came over here with nothing and established it all," Erik Fahlen said.
His first jobs in the United States included stints at various bakeries and a gig selling fats and oils in the baking industry. The Fahlen family relocated to Michigan, where Arne Fahlen took over research and development for Awrey's Bakery when the business was located in Detroit.
"He had a goal that by the time he was 40 years old he wanted to have his own business," Erik Fahlen said.
Arne Fahlen made that happen when he partnered with Arnold Sonneveldt Jr., owner of Buttercup Bakery on Grand Rapids' Northwest Side. He grew the retail end of the business, bringing Buttercup's products into grocery stores.
In 1972, the partners opened the Old Mill location in Rockford, their first restaurant. Six years later, they expanded on the concept and opened the first Arnie's Bakery and Restaurant in Breton Village. Buttercup Bakery consolidated as Arnie's Inc. in the 1980s. The Fahlen family bought out the Sonneveldt family's interest in 1992.
Arnie's Bakery and Restaurants now operates four locations in Grand Rapids, Rockford and Wyoming. While growing the business, Arne Fahlen remained adamant about using quality ingredients, doing things right the first time and providing more than customers expect, his son said.
He never fully retired from the business - now operated by sons Erik, James and Richard - and he frequently checked in. If something didn't meet standards, he let his staff know.
"He was tough on you, but he was tough in a loving way to expect the best out of you," Erik Fahlen said. "He expected a lot out of people, and they respected him for that."
Arne Fahlen's last business venture with his sons was relocating the longtime Centerpointe Mall location to a building across the parking lot. The recent move allowed the family to update the restaurant. Arne Fahlen was pleased because he liked to keep things fresh, his son said.
The businessman worked hard but also made time for his family. He was an avid skier and boater.
In a recent conversation with relatives, Arne Fahlen said his marriage was the best part of his life. He and Marilyn celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this year.
"That was his love of his life and always has been," Erik Fahlen said. "They’ve been a great example of marriage to many, many people."
Some of Arnie's Bakery and Restaurants staff have stuck with the business for decades. Erik Fahlen said that's a testament to his father, who made the most of opportunities and also provided for others.
"He would reflect on how blessed he was that the Lord blessed him with these opportunities," Erik Fahlen said. "We were blessed to have him as a dad."
Arne Fahlen is survived by his wife, Marilyn; sons, Richard and Pam Fahlen, Dr. Steven and Angie Fahlen, James and Rosemary Fahlen, and Erik and Lynne Fahlen; 16 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.