SHAWANO, Wis. (WFRV) – Since the kids are back in class, Local 5 figured that supper club enthusiasts might want to brush up on their knowledge and hit the books too.
The Dish on Wisconsin Supper Clubs correspondent Michele McCormack recently chatted with Ron Faiola who is regarded by many as the guru of the supper clubs.
The southeast Wisconsin-based movie maker, author, and lecturer sat down before giving a presentation at the Shawano County Public Library to talk about his 4th book that’s coming out in November.
It revisits his original best seller.
“I revisited 24 clubs that were in the book and a lot of them have new owners now,” Faiola shared. “And I added 15 more.”
Ron is not a food critic. Rather, he details the menu, profiles the owners, and notes trends.
What has stood out to him since pandemic-related restrictions were lifted and the supper clubs re-opened is the enthusiasm for the tradition of leisurely enjoying a meal.
“I’m glad to see so many people are going to supper clubs. Some supper clubs have a line out the door of people waiting,” said Faiola.
Ron doesn’t mind taking a deep dive into history either and changes he’s noticed over the years. For example, when it comes to the relish tray.
“What happened was people weren’t eating the relish tray,” he said matter-of-factly. “So, owners were throwing the food away. It’s a waste of money and food. They can’t reuse that. So if you do get a relish tray, eat it. If you don’t, you know there’s probably a salad bar which is what I call the new relish tray because everybody’s looking for that.”
Ron also has some perspective on the specialties of Wisconsin from region to region.
“In the northeast, it’s broiled whitefish. Usually, it’s caught that day or the day before so it’s fresh. They’re not necessarily getting them from Lake Michigan but from Lake Superior. In the northwest, they have pop-overs, versus down in the Beloitt area they put in sweet rolls, a little Danish, and nobody can figure out why.”
For all his research and passion on the topic, he believes the biggest challenge to supper clubs is staffing.
“Staffing has been terrible, especially for the Northwoods,” he said of his research and investigation in preparation for the new book. “They just don’t have enough people available at some of the locations and so some places close early. People complain it took forever. Well, it might be only one server. At one place there was one guy who took your order, went back and cooked it, and brought it out!”
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The Dish on Wisconsin Supper Clubs has heard often during its own reporting on staffing challenges since supper clubs re-opened after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.
The legendary Sky Club Supper Club which is the birthplace of the first salad bar had to wait months to get to proper staffing levels to re-open its salad bar.
“We’re trying to find people to work, just like every business,” co-owner Eric Freund told Local 5 News .”We’re doing our best. Competitive pay. Flexible scheduling. We just need more people to work.”
At Geno’s Hilltop Steakhouse in Black Creek, owner Nicole Hietpas has a roster of 30 staffers, mostly part-timers just looking for a side hustle. The lure of tips certainly is enticing.
“I would say people are supper clubs are more generous,” Hietpas said when asked about tipping by Local 5. “Most people tip 20 percent. If a meal’s 30 bucks, you’re going to make good tips.”
At Romy’s Nitingale in Binghamton, owner Dawn Balthazor relies on high school students to serve, clear plates, and keep the buffet fully stocked. She also continues her father’s tradition of providing a free meal with every shift.
“My dad always said you gotta feed those kids before they go to work,” Balthazor said. “And that’s what we do because they’ve been at school all day. They work very hard and do a wonderful job.”
Even though he may be a guru, Faoila can’t predict the future, but he does hope supper clubs will always be part of the here and now.
“The enthusiasm is there. Hopefully, this work situation will get better. I don’t know what’s going to cause that, but it’s a big part of the problem.”
Faiola currently has a list of 293 supper clubs that he’s confirmed are operating.
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