Nol Marschke is living the dream.
His commute into work each morning consists of getting into his boat at the south of the Mondeaux Flowage and traveling north past cabins, campgrounds and tying up at the dock by the Mondeaux Lodge where he gets busy grinding fresh beef for the day’s burgers and getting things open for the first patrons to come in.
They might be fishermen stocking up on bait and ice to head out for the day, it might be someone from a nearby campground who needs bug spray, supplies or a good meal. It could also be community members out for a drive and a bite to eat.
“It was a dream of mine when I was a little kid,” Marschke said of being able to drive his boat into work every day.
Marschke is the new concessionaire at the historic Mondeaux Lodge. The Lodge is owned by the USDA Forest Service and was built as part of the original Civilian Conservation Corps camp when the Mondeaux Flowage was converted from farmland and cutover to being part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The Mondeaux Lodge closed in 2016 after long-time concessionaire Steve Kalmon retired and then the federal government began what turned into being a lengthy renovation project on the historic structure. Renovation work was completed this spring.
After more than five years of being closed for renovations, the Mondeaux
Lodge opened with a soft opening in June. Concessionaire Nol Marschke was selected by the Forest Service to operate the historic facility. He offers a menu of gourmet fresh ground burgers as well as stocking some camping necessities. Right, Marschke shows some of the puzzles and games people can play with as they wait for their meals.
Last December, Marschke submitted a bid to run the facility, and was told he would find out at the beginning of January but didn’t hear anything until February. Ironically, he was in Florida at the time he got the message getting ready to accept a job with Disney in culinary. He had flown down there to get his physical done when he got the message on his phone congratulating him on being awarded the concessionaire.
After coming back to Taylor County, it was a lengthy period of “hurry up and wait” as last minute projects were completed including the removal of hazard trees. He said it took another two months before they could get in and get equipment ordered and begin getting staff hired. That work took another six weeks and he was finally able to do a soft opening on June 25.
“Business has been amazing,” Marschke said of his first month in operation. This doesn’t mean it hasn’t been without its challenges and learning curve. He said that during their first Friday night fish fry on the 4th of July weekend, they served between 200 and 300 tickets and had to turn away about 200 more people.
Part of this he said was adjusting to new kitchens and learning ways to be more efficient. He also noted that this was his first experience in working at a restaurant without walk in coolers and the ability to have things prepped. He said they have to be careful in building the menu to make sure they have the ingredients on hand for the 400 people who show up.
The Mondeaux Lodge’s menu features gourmet burgers and fries. The burger is ground fresh in house each day. Marschke said he worked as a meat cutter for five years and his father did it for 30 years and they work to get the best meats possible and grind it for that day. His fish fry includes walleye and haddock.
His eventual goal is to offer reservation-only fine dining nights with multicourse meals, but that will come in time.
The Lodge still maintains its traditional feel with longtime residents remarking that it looks the same as before the renovation. Marschke said they have worked to put their own touch on the decorations with features such as the Edison light bulbs and stacks of Tlusty Beverage crates for display shelves helping keep the rustic up north theme.
Marschke is also being creative in making eating at the Mondeaux Lodge an experience. They are working on a picnic basket option where people get a basket including a red checked cloth and a game to play while they wait for their order to be prepared. When the order is done they are alerted and can come into the dining room to get it.
Marschke said they plan to be open year-round and change things up through the year. He said his experiences working will be put to use. He has worked in many different capacities doing everything from being the owner of a bar and grill and working at supper clubs to working on the Riverwalk in Chicago. He had been attending culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago when he got the idea to submit for a chance to be the concessionaire.
“Just by chance everything happened,” he said.
He said the next year will be a learning one for him and his team with the goal of having everything fine tuned by this time next year.
The Mondeaux Lodge is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On the first Sunday of each month they will be open for breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday will have their regular menu. The Mondeaux Lodge is closed on Mondays.