PLOVER, Wis. (WFRV) – Three generations of the Freund family have nurtured the legacy of the Sky Club.
The name harkens back to long before they owned it when there was a nearby landing strip, and the pilots stopped in for supper.
“The original space was about 3,000 square feet. It was a house basically,” explained current owner Eric Freund. “It had a small dining room and four to five tables with a 12-foot bar and that’s about it.”
His family took over in the 60s and has been at the controls of the transition from a homestead supper club to a sprawling space with several different dining rooms, including a gallery room featuring the artwork of famed UW-Stevens Point Professor TK Chang.
It was a case of the connections made through the course of life that worked their way back into the business.
“His daughter went to school with my mother at Stevens Point, and they always had this collection, and she said if you ever want to start a gallery,” explained Eric.
The space also includes a banquet hall with its own bar. Five dining rooms and 16,000 square feet.
While the Sky Club honors old-fashioned tradition, it also brings a modern touch that attracts younger diners.
When Local 5 recently visited, our crew came across a group of lifelong girlfriends who made the trip from Green Bay.
“These are my kindergarten friends we’ve been friends for 30 years,” Dana Martin shared. “Twice a year, we got together, and we wanted to do a supper club.”
In the kitchen, the plates fly off the shelves, lighting fast and with control tower-like precision.
And a confident sous chef who’s not afraid to make some bold statements while on the line.
“Nobody in the whole state fries fish better than I do!”
To think most folks only talk about how it was the home of the first salad bar.
“In the ’40s, the previous owner literally had the salads on a table,” Eric said the story goes. “And called Russell Swanson, who manufactured bars here in Stevens Point, and asked if he could make a salad bar. He’d never done it before but was into refrigeration, and he said I think I can do it.”
A lighted fixture marks the spot where the first salad bar once stood.
Although there is another old version still around.
And that’s not the only first worth noting.
The Sky Club was also home to one of the first automatic dishwashers in the ’60s.
These days, the salad bar is on certain days and for special occasions.
A casualty of a lingering workforce shortage after business re-opened in the post covid pandemic world.
“We’re doing our best with competitive pay and flexible scheduling,” Eric said. “We just need more people we just don’t have the manpower to bring back the salad bar at the moment. We’re still doing tossed salads and three different soups every day. We’re still making fresh salads for our customers.”
Yet, Freund sees a silver lining, the shutdown made folks want that supper club experience even more.
“It’s been good for the industry and good for us I think. Tell somebody you can’t do it, what are going to do? You’re going to want to do it. So, I think it revitalized the supper club industry as a whole and dining in general.”
On a Friday night, the place was packed. One of the best tables was already spoken for by some longtime customers who took over from the longtime customers before them.
“There’s an old saying about the sky club,” Mary Vonne told us. “Heavenly food served by angels. We love it here we come as often as we can.”
Then there were the longtime friends who call themselves the “Polish Gals” who were gathered at the bar with their favorite potato pancakes.
Co-owner Pat, Eric’s brother, tends the bar. He’s always got a story to share and usually tries to convince brandy lovers to try his Jim Beam orange sour old-fashioned instead.
“A lot of places do them nicely,” Pat declared. “But I like ours because we use our own mix.”
The Sky Club also has old-fashioned cocktails ready to go with a tamper-proof seal.
They contain the special mix called “Shifty’s” that was first concocted by the late and great bartender Jerry Haeffner who was the only bartender from Wisconsin to be inducted into the Bartender Hall of Fame, according to Eric.