“Wisconsin’s oldest restaurant”

N44 W33013 Watertown Plank Road, Nashotah, Wis.

(262) 367-4883

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Dinner hours: Monday-Friday 4:30-9 p.m.; Saturday 5-9:30 p.m.

Lounge opens: Monday-Saturday 4 p.m.

Happy hour: Monday-Friday 4-6 p.m.

Bar bistro menu: Monday-Saturday 4:30-9 p.m.

Founded in 1847 and opened as The Nashotah Hotel in 1848 by Francis Schraudenbach, the then stagecoach stop was located at the intersection of the Watertown Plank Road and a trail leading south to the young town of Delafield. With growing access to the area, beautiful summer homes of wealthy Milwaukeeans began to sprout on the pristine lakes in the area. It was not long after that in 1857 the railroad built a path paralleling the Plank Road with a stop just a block south of The Inn.

The Nashotah Hotel passed through various owners up until 1889 when Fredrick Pabst of brewery fame purchased the property and renamed it the “Red Circle Inn” after the brewery’s logo. The Pabst family successfully operated the restaurant until 1911 when it was sold to Steven and Hulda Polaski. Mr. Polaski had worked for the Pabst family in various capacities and finally as the household chef. When he expressed interest in operating The Inn, Mr. Pabst personally financed and supported the Polaskis in their venture.

It would turn out to be a four-generation family operation for the Polaski family that grew The Inn to local, state and national prominence. This tenure lasted until 1976 when Aat Groenevelt, owner and founder of Provimi Veal, purchased the restaurant. His company, and eventually daughter Renee along with her husband Mark, operated the restaurant until its sale to us in 1993.

Not only is it a pleasure to own The Red Circle Inn but an honor to perpetuate Wisconsin’s oldest restaurant. Our entire staff welcomes you not as a customer, but as a guest at The Inn. Be it an intimate table for two, family event for ten or a grand celebration for two hundred and fifty, we are here to accommodate and exceed your expectations. (from the Red Circle Inn website)

Proprietors:

Martha (B.S. Business Administration, ’97) and Norm Eckstaedt

Their backstory:

Martha started out in Chicago working for her uncle, who was the general manager of a private city club, and quickly discovered her natural talent for hospitality management. She went on to become a trailblazer in the male-dominated club management field. She worked her way up the ranks, eventually becoming the general manager of the Tower Club in Chicago and earning her Certified Club Manager (CCM) certification through the Club Managers Association of America, a difficult and notable certification to obtain in the field. “I was only the third woman to ever receive the CCM certification.”

Through her work with the association she met Norm, who was the general manager of a country club in Milwaukee. As their personal relationship developed and they made plans to marry, Norm and Martha merged their business expertise to co-own the Red Circle Inn and the Pines, a restaurant located at the Bristlecone Pines Golf Club in Hartland, Wis. They sold the Pines in 2009 and now focus exclusively on the Red Circle Inn, which they have owned since 1993. Read their complete story, which was published in the Stritch alumni e-newsletter last fall.

Most popular dishes:

“It’s the type of place where someone can order anything on the menu and it’s going to be special.” That being said, the Eckstaedts said some favorites are the Beef Wellington, veal dishes, hand-cut steaks and French soufflés. They also sell lots of fresh fish. “There are very few, if any, restaurants that have as much fresh fish as we do, with no fewer than seven selections on the menu every day.”

Their personal favorites:

Martha favors veal piccata, fish or anything she wouldn’t make at home. Norm prefers steak, veal, and rack of lamb provençale.

Points of pride:

History: Martha and Norm consider themselves caretakers of this Wisconsin landmark and are acutely aware that they have been entrusted with the special responsibility of keeping up with the times while staying rooted in the 166-year history and traditions of the Red Circle Inn. Guests can follow the evolution of that history through a series of historic photographs and artifacts on display.

The vegetable garden: Many dishes include produce and herbs grown in their own garden, which is maintained in large part by their chefs and kitchen staff.

Bistro menu: A fairly recent addition, this menu of small plates offers customers something a bit less formal than the restaurant’s fine dining menu options.

Service and event planning: Norm’s specialty is helping people plan their festivities. With a new pergola installed this year, receptions and other events have indoor and outdoor options for guests.

Toffee: At the end of a meal, guests receive a taste of homemade toffee. These sweet treats are so popular that many people buy it by the pound to give as gifts.

Secret to your success:

“We have a lovely environment and great food, but the most important thing is we know how to take care of people. We treat everyone as if they were family. In this business, you are only as good as your last guest or meal.”

Awards/recognitions:

2014 winner of OpenTable Diners’ Choice

Civic involvements:

“We do not just belong to organizations, but we’re involved. If you’re going to be in business, you have to be a part of your community.” They volunteer their time and resources to groups such as: Friends of Nashotah, Lake Country Rotary, Junior Achievement, Shorehaven Senior Living, their churches, and local food pantries.

Stritch memories:

“When I started college again, I brought with me many years of work experience that I was able to bring to the classroom and into the work I did to earn my degree,” Martha said. “At Stritch, I learned why I knew the things I did in my job. Stritch made me more of a whole, well-rounded person.”

Future plans:

The Eckstaedts expect to continue making improvements to the building and updating the menu, while staying true to the deep-rooted history of the restaurant.

Summing it up:

“We’re not a place you go to eat. We’re a place you go to dine or have an experience.”