Del-Bar restaurant in Wisconsin Dells stands out for what it’s not. In the land of giant water slides, theme hotels, neon-lit amusement parks, duck boats, minigolf and more sits the unobtrusive, one-story supper club.
Blink at the nearby attractions, such as Noah’s Ark, on Wisconsin Dells Parkway and you’ll miss it, but that’s the ultimate attraction of Del-Bar — a 75-year-old oasis of calm and tradition in a town that’s all about the next big thing.
Earlier this year, Amy Wimmer, a 1991 University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate in hotel, restaurant and tourism management, became the owner of the long-time family-run restaurant after her father, Jeff Wimmer, and his wife, Jane, retired.
Since then, she’s been hearing a familiar refrain that speaks to Del-Bar’s place in the business community. “People are saying, ‘We’re so glad the Del-Bar is staying the Del-Bar.’ The reaction and support have been so great,” Wimmer said. “People don’t want us to change anything.”
She’s not promising everything will stay the same, but Wimmer knows as well as anyone that familiarity and consistency have helped make Del-Bar a classic Wisconsin supper club, a favorite haunt for locals and tourists for generations.
Wimmer admits feeling some pressure to maintain Del-Bar’s reputation. “It’s all about carrying on the legacy,” Wimmer said.
Del-Bar is known for its prime-aged steaks, seafood, pan-fried walleye, pork and chicken schnitzel, Old Fashioneds and other favorites, but the quiet atmosphere, secluded seating areas and attentive staff, many who have worked there 25 years or more, add to the experience.
“What the staff has done to give us a 4.8 rating out of five on Open Table is incredible, and I can’t take credit for that,” Wimmer said, adding that Del-Bar has about 30 full-time employees and another 30 or so in the summer.
Wisconsin travel writer Mary Bergin, in her 2015 book “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook,” called Del-Bar one of the state’s “most stylish eateries.” The restaurant also was featured in the 2013 book “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience,” by Ron Faiola. Also in 2013, it was one of 22 featured in "The Supper Club Book: A Celebration of Midwest Tradition," By Dave Hoekstra.
Wimmer started working there at age 10, when her grandparents owned it, and continued through her college years.
She didn’t stay, however. “When I graduated (from UW-Stout), my dad was only 55, and he told me to go do something,” she said.
She moved to Colorado and became the second employee of CCX, an electronics cable manufacturer near Boulder. She had risen to vice president of sales for the $25 million a year company.
But she couldn’t ignore the tug of family, hometown and a new challenge. “The thought of this restaurant going to another family was devastating to me,” she said. “It’s a deep part of our heritage. I grew up with my grandma and grandpa here. I always thought someday I’d run this restaurant.”
She learned volumes about the business from her dad. “He’s an expert in food. Every meal with him was research and development,” Wimmer said.
She also learned volumes from her professors at UW-Stout, she said. They helped put into perspective the things she’d learned on the job at Del-Bar and how to approach the business professionally. She said UW-Stout gave her “a great education,” including hands-on lab experiences.
Still going strong
Del-Bar opened as a roadside café for five years before Wimmer’s family took over. It was started by one man from the Dells and one from Baraboo — hence Del-Bar.
With five building additions over the years — each designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright’s — seating capacity has grown to about 220. A room with space for 100 is popular with tour bus groups and for receptions and other special events.
With indoor water parks and a push for more conventions, Wisconsin Dells has become a year-round destination, but competition in the restaurant business is much stiffer as a result. “The number of restaurants added in Wisconsin Dells has been crazy, but people love Del-Bar and keep coming back,” she said.
She knows, as she digs into her new career, that the restaurant’s reputation won’t be enough in the long run. “We have to stay ahead of the game. I am grateful I have the opportunity to keep it going.”
UW-Stout’s School of Hospitality Leadership, which is ranked No. 8 in the world, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a number of special events.
Top: Del-Bar restaurant opened in 1938 in Wisconsin Dells and has been in the Wimmer family since 1943.
Bottom: The interior of Del-Bar has historic photos of the restaurant.