GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – It’s Friday night along Riverview Drive on the shoreline of Duck Creek in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Savory smells fill the air from the kitchen of River’s Bend Supper Club, a fixture since 1974.
While many restaurants might be struggling after the pandemic and amidst inflation, River’s Bend says they’re good.
They credit their bounceback, in part, to a group of diners who call themselves the Wisconsin Supper Club Enthusiasts.
River Bend’s General Manager Courtney Kettner says they know for sure the group is sending business their way because some members will plop a little orange cone with the group’s acronym on the table or at the bar as an easy way to meet up with fellow enthusiasts.
“A lot of the people from the Facebook site are traveling,” Kettner told Local 5 News. “And they’re trying to hit every supper club they can and we’re just lucky to be one of those destinations for them.”
Turns out the group was started by a Luxemburg man and his wife who were reminiscing about childhood during the height of the pandemic when so many were cooped up at home. Almost all of those memories revolved around being at a supper club.
“Like anybody, I went on Facebook,” explains Shawn Niemann. “I tried to look for a group or a page that talked about Wisconsin Supper Clubs and where I could read reviews or try one I hadn’t heard about. And there wasn’t anything.”
So he started his own Facebook group among family and friends. Two years later that circle has grown.
“Right now we have 61,000 members,” Niemann confirms. “We grew by another 350 this week alone.”
The mini-orange cones with WISCE on the side were the idea of fellow enthusiast Jill Paul of Appleton.
“I saw one man post I’m the guy in the Hawaiin shirt, come to talk to me,” Paul recalled. “I thought there must be an easier way to connect with each other.”
She says they’ve sold more than 3,000 in 25 states.
You can purchase them on Etsy for $5. Shipping is another $5. You don’t have to buy a cone to be a member of the group, but it does bring something extra to the experience.
“It’s fun,” Paul insists. “You go out and see the cone and chat with folks. People see them and shout across the bar there’s a cone and they come over and start talking and you make friends.”
River’s Bend says almost every night someone walks in with a cone.
“We love it,” says Kettner. “I think the Wisconsin Supper Club Enthusiasts are part of an uplifting community and make us feel part of that. We’re honored to serve everyone who comes in.”
To be clear, enthusiasts are not trying to present themselves as professional food critics. In fact, they ask that fellow group members post only about their successes.
If you swipe through their page you’ll see a post from some lady bowlers who raved about the relish tray at Pinewood Supper Club in Mosinee.
Other diners posted photos of towering ice cream drinks at Benedetti’s in Beloit.
Local 5 News reporter Michele McCormack stumbled upon a lower calorie version of the grasshopper called the “Naughty Girl Scout” at Majerle’s in Sheboygan.
She also had a chance to talk with some of the people who packed the bar of this family-owned spot nestled among the trees.
“It’s quaint. It’s like being up north! It’s right on the outskirts of the city and a great place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle,” said Steve Wakefield who is a regular at Majerle’s. “You can come here and there’s always a different crowd in here every Sunday. You never know who you’re going to run into.”
It turns out a local celebrity stopped by when Local 5 News cameras were there.
Jeff Freund was an extra in Abu Dabi where actor Brad Pitt was filming his “War Machine” project for NETFLIX.
“I’ve been all over the world and this is something very unique,” Freund insists.
This brings up another popular topic of conversation.
What exactly is a supper club?
Shawn Niemann says the answer is easy. “Where you have good food made from scratch. The owner isn’t in some other state, they’re behind the bar and showing you a good time.”
For Jill Paul, it’s where everybody knows each other. “I think it’s a gathering spot. My parents would go every weekend. They knew the bartender they knew the servers. It was a family thing.”
Even at River’s Bend, which prides itself on a ribeye with a view, they say a supper club cannot be judged by food alone.
“People define it in many ways,” says Kettner. “The tradition of the table linens and the hand-muddled old-fashioned. We have a full salad bar. That all goes into the definition of it. But, I think the supper club is more than just a restaurant. It’s a destination where you can spend your whole evening.”
And meet up with fellow enthusiasts. Because when it comes to Wisconsin Supper Clubs, it seems there’s always room at the table.
“I think we’re seeing a drive-through world now,” Niemann reflected, “And there are still a lot of people, including the younger generation, that want to take a couple of hours on a Friday night and turn dinner into an event.”
Cheers to that!