A big yellow smiley face and the words, “Come on in!” welcome hungry folks into Rae’s Diner, the little red breakfast joint on Michigan Avenue in Albion.
Inside, the diner maintains a classic feel with 18 red leather barstools circling a horseshoe-shaped counter clad in a retro black and white checkerboard pattern. Aromas of sizzling bacon, frying hash and freshly brewed coffee waft out of the kitchen and into the sun-filled dining room. Customers walk in to pick up to-go orders and chat with the owner and cook, Ray Chulis.
The menu, as Chulis put it, is “short and sweet,” featuring breakfast fare, burgers, and other comfort foods. According to Chulis, the most popular menu item by far is the biscuits and gravy, with the number 11 and 12 omelets coming in at second and third.
Chulis, a Detroit native, grew up working in various Italian restaurants and pizza shops. Chulis moved to Albion, his wife’s hometown, 15 years ago. Before opening Rae’s Diner, he worked as a foreman for the Albion Department of Public Works for five years.
When Little Red Lunch Box, which formerly occupied the space, closed in 2021 Chulis made a spontaneous “shotgun move” and decided to get back in the restaurant business.
Rae’s Diner, named after Ray’s wife, Vonda Rae Chulis, opened for business this past August, fulfilling Albion’s need for a good local spot to grab breakfast.
“You know, the city hasn’t had breakfast in forever,” Chulis said. “I make more omelets at lunch than burgers.”
Currently, Rae’s is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Chulis is thinking about extending the hours of operation to be more accommodating to college students’ schedules.
“I’d eventually like to stay open a little later, till 6 p.m. Throw out some dinner specials and stuff like that, but people are still going to come for breakfast,” he said.
One thing that won’t change, though, is the diner’s unique layout. While the idea had been proposed to tear out the horseshoe counter and put in more traditional tables, Chulis scrapped that suggestion. He said that the current setup encourages patrons of the restaurant, who might otherwise be strangers, to interact and converse with each other.
“You’ll have a sixty-year-old white dude sitting down here and talking to eighteen-year-old black kids, having breakfast. That doesn’t happen anywhere else out here,” Chulis said. “You can walk in here alone, you won’t leave alone. Anybody that comes in here will have a good conversation anytime. I see it every day, man. It’s great, I love it.”
Chulis’ passion for serving up satisfying breakfast food is obvious. So is his mission.
“Bringing the community together one breakfast at a time, one omelet at a time,” Chulis said.