Buffet of Options
Restaurant influx gives residents more choices

By Alex Nemec

Jan. 3, 2019

OCONOMOWOC — Citizens of Oconomowoc don’t have to go far to find something to satisfy their appetite any longer.

Since 2014, Oconomowoc has had 16 new restaurants open, with two more scheduled to open this year. Residents can get a burger from Crafty Cow, pizza from Bella Gusto, a steak from Grill 164, late night appetizers at Chili’s and wake up for breakfast at Scramblers at Pabst Farms.

There’s no shortage of options for residents to dine and Oconomowoc Economic Development Director Bob Duffy said the increase in restaurants coming to Oconomowoc reflects the city’s residential growth.

“The more people that are in an area, the more demand there is for hospitality and those types of services,” Duffy said. “From a market perspective they are ultimately following the trend of more and more people moving to this community and the growth of this community.”

Mike Bertrand, owner of Lago Su Bella, a new Italian restaurant set to open early this year at Eagles Landing, said Oconomowoc is an area of exponential growth and expendable income.

“There is a buzz about Oconomowoc right now,” Bertrand said. “There is just a renewed energy I feel.”

Schwefel’s Restaurant owner Dan Schwefel said when he opened the restaurant in November 1988 there were five businesses in competition with him and that since then Oconomowoc has grown leaps and bounds.

“When I started the business there wasn’t a lot of restaurants in town other than fast food,” Schwefel said. “We’ve seen some come and some go.”

 Bertrand said he has always believed activity breeds activity, saying Water Street in Milwaukee is a good example of that.

“The more bars they seem to stuff on that little street, the more people seem to flock there,” Bertrand said. “There’s enough business to go around for everyone.

“From an operational standpoint and an excitement point, what it’s going to do to the overall area and to myself as an individual, I think it’s great.”

Co-owner of Bella Gusto Tom Burns said he doesn’t panic when new restaurants come to town. There have been a few new restaurants open up downtown this year and despite that Bella Gusto has had a record year and gets busier every night, Burns said.

“There’s rumors that there will be a couple more coming into town. It’s fine with us,” Burns said. “Our whole place is so different with being able to shop, cater, dine-in and the addition of our pizza, we don’t feel it all.”

Schwefel said being diversified in the business is important to a small city like Oconomowoc.

“As far as the competition, I welcome it, it’s good for all us because it keeps us on our toes,” Schwefel said. “It makes you be aware of what you’re doing better because you can get complacent after 30 years. Competition is good for us.”

Bertrand said there’s no shortage of variety and he doesn’t want Lago Su Bella to step on other restaurants’ toes.

“Some people asked me the other day if we were going to have good pizza and I said we wouldn’t, we’re going to have Bella Gusto handle the pizza,” Bertrand said. “Same thing with Crafty Cow and hamburgers.

“It’s a big sandbox and we can all play nicely in it.”