Settlers Inn debuts new look, new menu
Family members band together to give new life to their longtime restaurant, catering business

By Laurie Arendt - News Graphic Staff

Oct. 20, 2015

CEDARBURG — It wasn’t that long ago that instead of big, expansive windows, the building housing Settlers Inn might just have sported a “for sale” sign. Longtime owners Joan and Tom Dorsey found themselves at a crossroads, and they weren’t quite sure what they should do.

“We knew we had to do something – we looked at other locations, at Grafton and other places in Cedarburg – but we couldn’t find anything that we liked and was big enough,” said Tom Dorsey.

The Dorseys opened Settlers Inn 23 years ago, and had developed a successful catering business in conjunction with their restaurant. The entire operation was run out of a cramped 300-square-foot kitchen; the restaurant and deli space also wasn’t particularly serving their needs either.

And then things started to change, along with the Dorseys’ decision to sell.

“We’re an all-family operation, and our three kids decided they wanted to come back,” he said of his three adult children, Dena, Dyan and Bryan.

It was time for a Plan B: Stay put and make Settlers Inn the kind of space they really needed to be successful. The Dorseys also worked together to decide who would do what, and they joked when trying to define their roles.

Tom Dorsey cooks, works on specialty menus and pretty much does anything. Joan Dorsey essentially manages and takes care of ordering and the catering operation; and Bryan Dorsey’s the man behind Settlers Inn’s long-time freezer meal operation, which provides freshly prepared entrees for people to take home. Dena Baule does the front-of-the-house work and human resources. Dyan Lasar is the resident baker and, like her dad, gravitates into the “anything else” category at times.

Deciding to stay put brought about an interesting opportunity for the Dorseys. Among their goals: take the building itself back to the way it looked when it was built. They’ve primarily relied on old pictures and a contracting team to make that happen. Bryan Dorsey has also done a little work on the interior, which has uncovered some interesting things, like a hidden-away liquor dumb-waiter contraption in the upstairs bathroom, likely used during Prohibition.

“This building was built in 1885, and up until we bought it, it had always been a bar,” said Joan Dorsey. “We do have a full bar here, but our emphasis is different. We now consider ourselves a café/market/catering business.”

That change meant opening up the dining area from what it was to an expansive open space, knocking down the wall between the dining room and the deli and installing an expanded coffee bar and deli area.

“We need to give the Cedarburg Landmarks Commission a lot of credit for working with us on this,” said Joan Dorsey. “They have been so supportive.”

The Dorseys also made a change to the back of the property. In 1911, the the nowners built a two-lane bowling alley behind the original building. Since then, it evolved into a liquor store and then eventually retail space. Initially, the Dorseys envisioned the space as an expanded kitchen, but found out that just wasn’t feasible.

“When you work on a project, you have a finite amount of money in your budget,” said Tom Dorsey. “Plus the space was only 14 feet wide. We ended up completely removing it and creating the kind of kitchen we really needed.”

In the past, the kitchen staff had to juggle catering prep and restaurant service in the same space. The new kitchen separates the two. It also gives the kitchen staff a major break by moving the freezer and refrigerator storage out of the basement and onto the main floor.

The physical changes to the building also have provided an opportunity for Settlers Inn to revamp and tweak, with a new menu and an evolved concept.

Lasar came back home with a hospitality degree and took charge of the new concept. Their idea wasn’t so much to compete with other existing Cedarburg restaurants, but to provide a better, healthier alternative to fast food, especially for breakfast. Nine different breakfast options include sandwiches, burritos and quiche. “We think of ourselves as ‘fast casual,’” she said. “We want people to come here in the mornings to get their breakfasts rather than going through a drive thru. All of our food is homemade, too. It’s a much healthier alternative.” “Our menu looks different,” said Baule. “I think the best way to describe it is that it has more flavors.” The restaurant and deli offer a number of gluten-free items, and the Dorseys have been conscious about keeping some things intact, like the Settlers Combo, which includes a half-sandwich, a cup of soup or garden salad and a slice of pie.

“And even though we are closed at night, that’s actually when we get a lot of our catering work done,” explained Joan Dorsey. “There really always is someone here.”

The new and improved Settlers Inn has been open to the public for about three weeks and response from the public has been quite good.

Settlers Inn serves breakfast starting at 7 a.m. and adds a lunch menu at 11 a.m. The kitchen closes at 3 p.m.