For those looking for a new family vacation destination this summer, one that will allow you take in the rich history all corners of the state of Wisconsin has to offer, award-winning filmmaker Ron Faiola of Greendale has the perfect traveler’s guide waiting for you.
Faiola’s beautiful new book Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience is set to be released April 9.
In the 225-page, one-of-a-kind history book of sorts, you’ll find profiles on 50 supper clubs divided into five geographic regions, as well as countless photographs of food, restaurants, chefs and more.
Among the 50 restaurants is the HobNob on Sheridan Road, the closest destination included in the 50-year-old Faiola’s 5,000-mile journey he took last spring to every nook and cranny in the Badger State.
Faiola’s fascination with supper clubs began while he was looking for one to include in his 2009 documentary Fish Fry Night Milwaukee. As the list of possibilities grew, he thought to himself, "I should do a whole move on supper clubs."
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And he did just that. In April 2011, his documentary Wisconsin Supper Clubs profiled 14 supper clubs across the state. It received critical acclaim and was well received in a review in the Chicago Tribune, which eventually led to Doug Seibold, founder of Agate Publishing, suggesting Faiola write a book.
“I unwittingly tapped into this dining experience people have enjoyed over the years, and still do, and now it’s starting to make a comeback,” said Faiola, a professional videographer who is well-known in Greendale.
Book more inclusive than movie
Faiola wasn’t thinking of doing a book while researching supper clubs for his documentary, but was excited about the prospects of visiting those he passed over originally. He compiled a list of 250-300 initially, whittled that down to 100 and finally trimmed it back to 50 supper clubs for his book, 12 of which he profiled in his movie.
“When I contacted the places that were in the movie again, I found out they were enjoying renewed business since the movie had aired,” Faiola said. “People from not only Wisconsin, but all over the country, were doing mini-tours of the supper clubs in the movie.”
To be considered, for the book, the restaurant had to be a true supper club in that it only serves supper. Lunch or breakfast on the menu? You didn’t make the list.
Faiola visited a few supper clubs in the Beloit area last February, and from the beginning of March through mid-May, he tackled the rest, often staying on the road for two weeks at a time, spending evenings in tiny towns and mom and pop motels.
His final visit was The Silvercryst in Wautoma in mid-May. He turned in the manuscripts two weeks later and from August through December was involved in re-writing, picking out photos and writing captions.
During his visits, he talked to owners and customers alike, learned the history of the supper clubs and at times, even the towns they were in. He recognized common themes — many of the restaurants started out as taverns or dance halls, while others wee speakeasies with gambling. As the years went on, the supper club experience became fancier.
But while they shared similarities, their uniqueness — location, restaurant view, menu items and more — set them apart, Faiola said.
Not a food critic
And while he kept track of the miles he put on, he lost count of the meals he ate.
“I didn’t eat at every supper club. I wasn’t writing the book to review the food,” he said. “I did eat at plenty of them though and came home delightfully stuffed with a doggy bag.”
Faiola, a Greendale High School graduate who also attended St. Alphonsus, hopes his documentary and upcoming book revitalize the supper club tradition and ultimately keeps the experience alive.
“I hope people go out and discover some of these places and keep them in business because they do face a lot of competition from chains and franchise restaurants and it’s hard for them to compete with big advertising budgets,” he said. “They’re there. They’ve been there for 80 years, and people have to come out and find them. And that’s the thing, they’re destinations. You have to go out and find these places.”
Wisconsin Supper Clubs is slated to be released April 9 and can be pre-ordered online. The suggested retail price is $35, though pre-orders are discounted.
The book will be available as well when Faiola does several book signings, including two in April at the new Joey Gerard’s supper clubs: April 16 at the Mequon location and April 18 , just a few blocks away from Faiola’s Greendale original home.