From drawing board to menu board
Schwefel’s drawing presaged restaurant career

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

July 3, 2014

 Dan Schwefel, seen here with his wife Lori, had no aspirations of owning a family restaurant when he drew a picture of just such a scenario more than 25 years ago to send home to his parents. Now he, his wife and children are marking the 25th year of Schwefel’s being an institution
in the Town of Oconomowoc.

Submitted photo

TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC - Dan Schwefel, owner of Schwefel’s restaurant at N58-W39877 State Road 16 in the Town of Oconomowoc, still doesn’t know what possessed him to draw the image that now hangs on the wall of his restaurant.

He is no artist, he conceded, and his dreams of owning a restaurant had not yet developed.

Still, from his role managing an arts and crafts studio in Florida, he included a hand-drawn picture in his letter home, depicting the idea that he could own a restaurant.

Schwefel discussed with the Enterprise on Tuesday evening how that simple drawing foretold of his eventual career as a restaurant owner, and to reflect on 25 years in the business.

ENTERPRISE: What exactly did that drawing entail?   

SCHWEFEL: It had different family members in different positions and a menu on the side. When I look back at it, it’s kind of freaky that I felt so moved to draw this.

ENTERPRISE: How long was it before this drawing came to fruition? What did you do in the interim?

SCHWEFEL: I managed the arts and crafts studio in Florida after graduating from OHS in 1979, then I came back home to Oconomowoc, where I worked jobs as a bartender at Wingers Tap, a bartender at the Oconomowoc Country Club and a manager at Denny’s.

I talked with my brother Mike, who had also been a bartender at Wingers, about one day owning a bar together. On a whim, we eventually put in a lowball offer for the Bavarian Cottage in Oconomowoc. The realtor called us after this first offer and said, “You now own a restaurant.” We opened on Nov. 30, 1988.

ENTERPRISE: What has your time in the restaurant business taught you?

SCHWEFEL: Everybody has different capabilities and different experiences. And, if you can count on anybody; it’s family and your closest, closest friends.

ENTERPRISE: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant? And how would you describe the food?

SCHWEFEL: My favorite dish is the wiener schnitzel, with red cabbage and a potato pancake. German food is hardy meals, with big portion sizes. Our older clientele says this is just like their mom made it. An amazing number of young people are also trying and enjoying the food.

With customers growing more health-conscious, though, we’ve added other things to the menu, healthier options such as seafood, chicken and salads.

ENTERPRISE: What is your role now?

SCHWEFEL: I’ve done it all and still do a bit of everything. I prefer to be in the front of the house, interacting with customers and coaching employees.

ENTERPRISE: What do you stress when you’re coaching employees?

SCHWEFEL: In business today, it’s all about finding quality employees. I tell them to treat everybody like they’d want to be treated. Don’t judge anybody by how they look. And if something goes wrong, always try to make the customer happy before they leave.

People can go anywhere to eat dinner, so why would they choose Schwefel’s? It’s because of the people and the interactions.

ENTERPRISE: What is the family element at Schwefel’s?

SCHWEFEL: I own the restaurant with my wife, Lori, and both my daughter Hannah and my son Austin are working here, but soon to leave for other pursuits. They grew up in the restaurant. As infants, they were passed around for the customers to see.

Our executive chef, Gary Knapp, had worked here for 25 years before semi-retiring and having his son Kyle fill that role. A lot of the recipes came from his parents and grandparents.