The Packers turned 100 this year but they're not as old as these 3 Green Bay restaurants
Three Green Bay-area restaurants are older than the Packers and have unique ties to the team. Green Bay Press-Gazette
Chili, Broasted chicken and steaks.
Those are the MVPs for Chili John's, Suster's Arcade and the Union Hotel and Restaurant, which have been serving customers longer than the Green Bay Packers have been scoring touchdowns.
The Packers organization celebrated its 100th birthday in August. Over the years, the team has won 13 world championships, fielded 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees and provided plenty of memorable moments. Off the field, fans have rallied to keep the team financially viable through five stock sales. It takes serious community support to stick around so long.
Just ask these three restaurants, which haven't benefited from stock sales but have depended on generations of loyal customers. Through the years each restaurant has deftly transitioned with the times while maintaining tradition. And each has a few Packers connections as well.
Homemade ham salad on the relish tray and rolls made from an old family recipe accompany hand-cut steaks during dinner hours. Of course Old-fashioneds are part of the mix. This is a Wisconsin supper club experience that's been a tradition since the 1940s.
You need to go back to the 1800s, however, to get the full flavor of the Union Hotel.
In 1883, guests at the Union Hotel's dining room might have included a traveler staying for the night, a tradesman who called the hotel home as long as there was work to be had and a teenage boy attending high school.
Co-owner McKim Boyd says in those days, teens who lived in the country would be dropped off Mondays, stay the week at boarding houses or establishments like the Union Hotel while attending classes, then be picked up on Fridays.
Meals would have been sit down, family-style dinners, says Boyd, served around 5:30 p.m.
Boyd's great-grandparents bought the hotel in 1918. They served a “primitive” menu through the 1940s when the hotel transformed into one of the area's first supper clubs. Today's menu hasn't changed much since then, including the dinner rolls that follow Boyd's great-grandmother’s recipe.
Keeping up with orders for steaks on the weekends requires a dedicated staffer who cuts them on the band saw in the kitchen, says Boyd, though that wasn't always the case.
Until the late 1930s, Union Hotel staff would call the butcher about a half a block down the road on Broadway to get cuts of steak as customers ordered. A dishwasher was sent out the back door to pick up the steaks in brown butcher paper and run them back to the kitchen to be prepared.
"And that’s actually the reason for the 9 p.m. closing time," said Boyd. "Because that’s when the butcher shop would close."
At least for the six nights the hotel served dinner.
Until 1979 the hotel restaurant was closed on Fridays. Perch was plentiful, says Boyd, and fish dinners at other establishments were cheap. The hotel couldn't compete with bars serving the meal, which has weaved itself into the fabric of Wisconsin's heritage.
With an extensive kitchen remodel and the days of 25-cent, all-you-can-eat perch plates a distant memory, the Union Hotel began serving dinner on Fridays. Customers now order more seafood than steak on Fridays. It's the only night of the week, says Boyd, that surf beats turf.
The Union's dinner guests have included Green Bay Packers head coaches dating back to Curly Lambeau. Mike Holmgren celebrated the Packers' 1996 NFC Championship victory by having dinner there with friends after the game, according to the Packers Heritage Trail plaque in front of the hotel.
There's also a Packers' connection with the Union's longest of long-term hotel guests, Gerald Braisher. A De Pere High School football and basketball coach, Braisher moved into room 16 in 1941 after his apartment building burned down. It was supposed to be temporary, but room 16 was his home until his death in 1981.
Packers players occasionally stopped by the Union Hotel, says Boyd, to visit with Braisher who served as the Packers equipment manager from 1956 to 1976. Braisher's room is being remodeled with a distinctly Packers theme.
But don't expect a complete Packers overhaul anytime soon. This is an old-fashioned hotel with a fully functional pay phone in the lobby and a black landline phone at the front desk that only receives calls.
When the dining room wallpaper showed signs of wear and tear, the hotel hired a specialist to clean and repair the scrolling red-on-white scenery. They even have two tables, as far as Boyd can tell, that date back to 1883.
The burgers are square. The knee caps are sweet. The history is deep.
On Fridays, Suster's is filled with customers. Some 500 guests will spill over from the bar into the dining room. Perch, walleye and pollock fillets get hand dipped in beer batter then deep fried to golden brown.
There should be a special place in heaven for fry cooks who can turn out pieces of deep-fried fish like that are so crispy outside and flaky inside. The fish pairs well with homemade sweet-sour coleslaw or rye bread or potato salad. (You have a choice of potato but I'm partial to potato salad.)
Served in a tavern that got its start in 1907 as a Hagemeister Brewing beer depot, you'd think it couldn't get more Wisconsin-y.
You'd be wrong.
If you and your dining companions all commit to family-style dinners — with bowls of homemade sauerkraut, dressing, gravy, coleslaw and potato salad to be passed around — the pollock and Broasted chicken are all you can eat on Fridays.
Still hungry on Saturday? Same deal but it's family-style Broasted chicken and ribs. On Sunday it's family-style Broasted chicken and tenderloin tips.
Yeah, Suster's is kind of big on Broasted chicken. About 2,000 pounds a week big, says Jason Baugnet. He along with his wife, Amanda, and her parents, Leon and Theresa Suster, own the restaurant.
The addition of the Broasters in 1963 was one of many transformative moments in Suster's history.
"It went from a bar to more of a restaurant," Leon Suster said in a 2007 Green Bay Press-Gazette article.
In addition to Broasted chicken, Suster's is known for a creatively named sweet treat. Those wise enough to save room for dessert are rewarded with knee caps. Think powdered sugar doughnut crossed with a cream puff. It's sweet but not cloying.
Vit Schuster purchased the building that now houses the restaurant in 1909 and promptly turned it into a saloon. As the family-run business changed through the years, so did the family last name to Suster. Though the "ch" got dropped, Suster's is still pronounced with the "sh" sound.
And prohibition added the arcade to Suster's. Gaming became an important revenue stream after alcohol was banned. What is now the kitchen was a poker room, and there were billiard tables, shuffleboards and slot machines.
By 1939 Suster's was back in the business of serving stiff drinks and it added what would become its most popular game: bowling. Lanes were packed with folks knocking down pins while knocking back pints. By this time, Suster's was also serving soups and sandwiches, including square-shaped burger patties from Village Meats located just around the corner.
Burgers are fried on an old compact, flat-top grill at the end of the bar.
All-in-all the dark interior, old family photographs and memorabilia create a quaint vibe that can only be earned over time — not designed.
A Packers stock certificate — No. 8 to be specific — hangs on the wall. It's from Vit's son Edward Schuster who founded Schuster Construction in 1918.
Edward was elected to the Packers board in 1931 and was a member for 54 years. Packers president Mark Murphy gave the family a plaque recognizing Ed's contributions during a 2015 Tailgate Tour stop at Suster's.
A restaurant located in a strip mall doesn't exactly scream historic. At Chili John's the history is in the bowl — either regular or super size.
Spicy, thick and unchanged, the chili is made following a secret recipe that dates back to 1913.
Founder John Issac perfected his spicy meat mixture that was served at the bar he and his wife owned and operated in Auburn, Illinois. When the city voted itself dry, the family moved to Green Bay but decided chili would be the family business.
Press-Gazette stories — and there are many — report the Isaacs arrived in Green Bay with $15 in their pockets and borrowed $40 to start a chili restaurant in 1913 at the east end of the Main Street bridge.
It was just a few blocks from Press-Gazette building on Cherry Street where the Packers would be founded six years later.
The sign outside the first location simply read "chili."
After two moves down Main Street, Chili John's opened at 224 Pine St. in 1947. It might still be there if it weren't for that darn Port Plaza Mall.
Harry and Dorothy Hoehne, Isaac's son-in-law and daughter, made the tough decision to close the downtown Chili John's in 1978. The mall's restaurants hurt the downtown cafe's business, Harry told the Press-Gazette.
As one mall took away a chili cafe, so another mall gave continued life to the famous chili.
Chili John's had opened a second location in 1973 in the Beacon Center on Military Avenue. This is where John Madden's bus made a stop when the Super Bowl-winning coach turned television announcer turned video game icon found himself in Titletown and wanting a bowl of chili.
Chili John's had gained national notoriety a decade before the first Madden cruiser rolled into the parking lot. Packers fans who like Chili John's and don't already despise the Minnesota Vikings, sharpen your quips about the barren case of Super Bowl trophies in the Twin Cities.
After shredding the Packers defense for 284 yards and three touchdowns in November 1975 at Lambeau Field, Vikings quarterback Francis Tarkenton famously credited Chili John's for his stellar performance that culminated in a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind 28-17 victory. However, Tarkenton wasn't exactly complimentary of the chili. A Minneapolis Star article reported that Tarkenton saw the experience as a "form of masochism," and he referred to the choices of medium, hot, and extra hot as "bad, awful and unbearable."
It wasn't the first time Tarkenton had been to Chili John's. Though with comments like that, it's little wonder Harry Hoehne shrugged off the quarterback's annual pilgrimage.
"Tarkenton came here only once a year," Hoehne was quoted in a Press-Gazette article. "We've had a lot better customers than that."
Madden, however, loved it. And he wasn't alone.
Chili John's earned a spot on USA Weekend’s 56 Great Places To Eat list in 1998 and USA Today's list of the 10 best places to get a bowl of chili in the United States in 2005.
Dan Hoehne, who took over Chili John's from his parents, Harry and Dorothy, sold the restaurant portion of the business to Jayson Wertel and Paul Wosnig in March. Dan continues to run the mail order and retail portion of the business and supplies the restaurant with the meaty mixture still made with the secret family recipe.
There's just something about that taste, says Wertel, that once it hits your taste buds you want to keep coming back.
He was coming back for years before becoming an owner. He has spruced up the decor including the addition of framed jerseys.
Chili John's is also a safe place for groups divided over what "belongs" in chili. Customers choose: With noodles. With beans. With both. Without either. Sides of shredded cheese, sour cream, diced onions and jalapeno slices can be ordered to top off your chili experience.
Oh, and there are plenty of oyster crackers. Wertel says don't overlook the importance of adding crackers to your bowl.
Regardless of what's in or on top of your chili (I like a few beans and noodles with diced onion and sour cream) it's hard to beat the history in each spoonful.
Contact Daniel at (920) 996-7214 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @HigginsEats and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/higginseats/.