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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Everybody has different capabilities and different experiences. And,
if you can count on anybody; it’s family and your closest, closest
ENTERPRISE: What is your favorite dish at the
restaurant? And how would you describe the food?
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.
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?
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
ENTERPRISE: What do you stress when you’re coaching
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.
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.