A special anniversary
Bilda’s Friess Lake Pub owners mark 10 years in business

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

Oct. 4, 2017

Vickie Bilda laughs as she talks about some of the decor Tuesday morning at Bilda’s Friess Lake Pub in Richfield. The pub is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
John Ehlke/Daily News

RICHFIELD — It was a little more than 10 years ago when Vicky and Bob Bilda opened the doors to customers at their new business – Bilda’s Friess Lake Pub. There were some tough early years and a lot of hard work, but Vicky said she and her husband are “don’t give up people” and today they have a thriving business, going strong 10 years later.

The pub is located in the heart of the Holy Hill area on the corner of Highways 164 and 167 — the site of the old Friess Lake School. Bilda’s offers casual pub food that is fast, hot and served to perfection.

Vicky and Bob are long-time village residents and those who know them say they “pour their heart and soul into the (bar) business.” No pun intended.

“I’ve been in the business off and on since I was 15 years old in southwestern Wisconsin in Mineral Point,” Vicky said. “I finally reached a point in life where I didn’t want someone telling me what to do. I wanted to be my own boss. So we saw this place and we bought it. A big reason was also that it’s only about one minute away from our home on Friess Lake.”

It was November 2006 when they bought the place and they had to virtually rebuild the building and business from scratch before opening in February 2007. In the early years, Vicky and Bob continued to work full-time day jobs besides working at the pub. With that stress, money needed to refurbish the building and a death in the family, the family cleared incredible hurdles to make their business the success it is now. Bob still works another day-job while Vicky no longer has an outside job.

“We lost a lot of money our first year, but we are both very motivated so that’s one of the reasons we were able to overcome the early business problems,” Vicky said. “We wanted to tie the community together so that’s why we called it Bilda’s Friess Lake Pub.”

The exterior of Bilda’s Friess Lake Pub is seen Tuesday morning in Richfield.
The pub is celebrating 10 years.
John Ehlke/Daily News

They knocked down the old Friess Lake School and then Friess’s Ice Cream Stand was built. That place was built that was called the Sunset View Restaurant which one day saw the name changed to Charlie’s and then the Bildas bought the place and have turned it into the business the public sees today.

Vicky said her ideas of what the new business should be like were very different than what other people may have considered.

“When I was raised it was really important to have a place that families could go together and that’s why I wanted here,” Vicky said. “It meant a lot of us as kids when our Dad would take the whole family out and we could have fun together and that’s what we try to do here. When we opened this place, at that time, there really wasn’t a place in this small market where you could find that kind of a place.”

One of the big rules the business has now is “that we close when Vicky says so.”

“It’s always 11:30 (p.m.). We never serve past midnight,” she said. “I don’t like any of my workers or my customers driving after midnight. Another thing here is we don’t have waitresses. When a customer comes in they go up to the bar and order and then we bring their meal and drinks to them. It was a slow process for everyone to understand that, but now everyone really likes it.”

Vicky said the business was also groundbreaking because it was a smoke-free establishment, long before it became a state law. Vicky said the business also does other “unique stuff.” The place is comfortable because it’s not fancy.

“We have a mug club which we started about six years ago. We also have 22 premium beers on tap that you can’t get anywhere else which works well with the mug club,” Vicky said. “You buy a mug for 20 bucks and then it gets numbered which they write down so they can remember. The mug is always hung on a wall in the same position so that when they come in they can find their mug, we clean it, they pay for their first drink and then get the second one free. Many people take their mug home and decorate it to make it stand out and unique. We have over 1,400 mugs and they continue to sell.”

Vicky said she and staff go through the mugs on a regular basis and they know due to this review that the mugs are being used on a regular basis.”

When people purchase their mug, they also provide their email address to the business and then get notices about specials. They can also use the business’ app to see what’s happening at the pub.

“We also can determine how busy we’ve been when at the end of the day we see how many mugs have to be washed,” Vicky said. “Some weekends we may have to wash 200 or more.”

The business also has bands on Sundays until the end of October and Thursday nights from Memorial Day to Labor Day called Music in the Kettle. They also have added a deck for people who want to eat, drink or relax outside. Sometimes bands also play outside near the deck.

“Just this last year we added automatic shades and there is a heater in it too,” Vicky said. “On the upper deck we have places for people to sit and enjoy the view and watch the traffic go by. We also recently started serving breakfast on Sunday starting at 9 a.m.”

“We have lunch specials everyday starting at 11 a.m.– 4 p.m. and dinner specials every night starting from 4 p.m.– 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.),” Vicky added. “Our business has grown substantially every year.”

Vicky said the business has enjoyed success also because of the loyal and hard working employees.

“One employee, Sue, has been here the entire 10 years we’ve been open,” Vicky said. “She’s been a real rock for us.”