When we think of the Northwoods, one thing that comes to mind is the Supper Club. These iconic restaurants, along with all nonessential business, have been closed to in-person business as a result of the COVID-19 virus. These closures have supper club owners wondering about their future. They also have concerns about their laid off workers, the companies that supply them with food and beverages, and their patrons who are unable to enjoy the establishments that are part of their lives.
Brad Widule is co-owner with his twin brother Brian of the White Stag Supper Club, located on State Road 17 between Rhinelander and Eagle River. The White Stag, according to Brad Widule, “has been shut down 100% since the start of pandemic orders by Evers back on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Supper clubs are usually independently owned establishments located outside of towns in a picturesque setting. There is a “throw-back” feel to these clubs that specialize in fine dining and a friendly atmosphere. A unique feature of these clubs is its signature cocktail, the brandy old fashioned. Widule offers his own definition of the supper club.
“A restaurant that is very open to family. We specialize in quality food, great atmosphere, great cocktails. Quintessential Northwoods dining experience,” he says.
The ownership of many supper clubs been passed down through the generations. In the case of the White Stag, it was opened in 1956 and Brad and Brian are now the third generation of Widule owers.
Even though many supper clubs, like the White Stag, have been around for a long time, Widule worries how long they can last without customers.
“We are not taking in any income whatsoever for the past six weeks,” he says. “Plus we have bills that are coming up at the end of the month.”
Although he is confident that they can weather the storm, he does worry about his nine employees who he had to lay off.
“They aren’t on a salary and are now unemployed. They depend on the tips, and the wages, right down to the dish washers,” he says.
One server has been with them for 26 years.
But it is not just the supper club owners, their employees, and their patrons that are affected by the closing of the clubs. The companies that supply food and drink to the supper clubs have had to close or scale back their businesses as well. This includes Edelman’s Meats from Antigo, which supplies the White Stag.
According to Dan Edelman, “Edelman Meats is a wholesale distributor. We have been around since 1946. Primarily our business deals with probably 90 percent restaurants and super clubs.”
Dan Edelman co-owns Edelman’s Meats with his brother, Tom. They too have had to lay off their ten employees. Who is left at the shop? Tom explains.
“We have just a bare bones crew right now. Basically just Dan and I.”
Although their freezers are full of food, Dan describes how their business has changed.
“It is terrible. When you are talking about 90% of our business is restaurants, and they are all shut down. We are down to 5 to 10% of our normal business right now,” he says.
Although many restaurants in the Northwoods are doing takeout orders, that is not true for most of the customers served by Edelman Meats. Dan explains why take out orders just don’t work for most supper clubs.
“As far as steaks go, which is a majority of our business, people are a little reluctant to put it into a Styrofoam container and send it out the door. Lot of people don’t want to have a steak like that,” he says.
Both the Edelman and Widule brothers have been getting information about federal stimulus funds from organizations like the Restaurant Association, the Tavern League, and the American Association of Meat Processors. They have been passing this information along to their laid off employees.
Tom and Dan Edelman have also been getting some advice from their dad, Joe, who took over the business in 1967 and is responsible for making the business what is today. Although Joe is currently in poor health, Tom describes how their dad assures them that they will get through this.
“He just says just keep doing what you are doing, keep doing it like we have always done. Don’t spend what you don’t have.”
Both the Edelman and Widule brothers hope that the threat of the virus ends soon, they get their employees back, and supper clubs can get back to what they do best--grilling steaks and making the old fashioned.
In the meantime, Edelman’s meats sells directly out of their shop so you could prepare your own supper club quality steak. And Brad Widule offered his old fashioned recipe to go along with the steak.
“A good old fashioned is made with bitters and sugar, good booze, and a good wash, and a smile.”