New owners revive Paris in Pembine Supper Club
In September 2012, Michele and Casey Wanek had just finished dining at Paris in Pembine when they noticed the “for sale” sign outside. They said they had the same thought.
“We had had enough of the corporate world,” Casey Wanek said at the time, adding this seemed like “an exciting adventure.”
By late spring of the following year, the couple took over the faltering supper club.
“It had been in foreclosure twice,” Casey Wanek said. “The previous owners were struggling and had downgraded the food and drink menu so that it was more like a bar than a restaurant.”
But in five years, the Green Bay SCORE clients have managed to revive Paris in Pembine while learning a great deal about the restaurant business, something they’d never worked in before making the purchase.
The Waneks painted throughout the early 1900s building, added a new bar and cabinetry but kept the original pressed tin ceiling, and upgraded the equipment. Their goal was to be an authentic supper club with expanded luncheon and dinner menus, along with an inviting atmosphere.
University of Wisconsin Small Business Development Center counselor Chuck Brys “spent months and months working with us on an extensive business plan,” Casey Wanek said. “He helped with average expense percentages, and knowing those figures helped us save thousands of dollars.”
Part of those savings came in understanding food costs. Michele Wanek, who is responsible for bookkeeping and entering information into a spreadsheet, said she got an early lesson in profit and loss when featuring a $5 sandwich promotion.
“The restaurant was full of people, and we sold a lot of sandwiches, but we weren’t making any money,” she said. “Especially with the steak sandwiches, we were basically giving them away.”
If they run a similar promotion today, they make sure they know the cost of each item and can exclude some from the special.
While knowing the cost of goods is vital, there are times when pricing changes can’t be controlled. A new menu may be printed every six months or so but certain items may increase dramatically in cost in the interim.
“For example, we put walleye on the menu, and the next week it went way up in cost,” Casey Wanek said. “We can’t make a new menu because that would cost too much and we don’t want to be one of those restaurants that uses duct tape or white out to cover a price.”
Instead, they leave it as is and hope it will eventually come back down. It helps that Michele Wanek records each item sold every day, so the next menu can incorporate those changes.
New items are tried frequently, and if they become popular, they are added to the regular menu, which now boasts entrees such as chicken and tenderloin Oscar and whiskey jack salmon to go along with the pizza, burgers, sandwiches and traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry.
“We get ideas by getting out once or twice a week to check out other restaurants,” Michele Wanek said. “That’s our competitive analysis, and how we learn to stand out as the best.”
The best means being the kind of place where there is a camaraderie among customers, staff and ownership; where the food is top quality and cleanliness a priority.
Michele Wanek said she is so attached to her customers that she misses the locals who go south for the winter. When they come back, she is quick to welcome them with a hug; she admits to being a big hugger.
Pembine might be a small community, but tourism provides a boost in the summer when rafting, fishing and visiting area waterfalls bring people to the area. In the winter, snow sports provide a steady stream of customers. The Waneks love hearing their customers’ stories, and think it is a large part of the reason they have been successful.
“We are honest, ‘people’ people,” Michele Wanek said. “We’re here most of the time and people see us and talk to us. That fact, and the good help we have, are why people keeping coming back.”
Casey Wanek added, “And, the food is awesome. This place is what brought us here from the corporate world. Failure was not an option. It was not going to happen. That’s the attitude we came in with.”
They are halfway through their 10-year plan, after which they intend to sell and retire so they can travel. In the interim, they continue to work hard so that they will have a successful business to sell.
They also have advice for others thinking of buying a restaurant.
“Do your homework. Some people buy restaurants because they think it sounds fun, but you need to look at the traffic, the sales history, and know what it will take to keep it going. You need a detailed plan,” they said.
This story originally was printed in the Press-Gazette in Green Bay, Wis. Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.