This eatery hasn’t changed much since the early 1950s. Find out why this place is more than just a typical restaurant and learn why the owner is just fine with patrons leaving their phones in their pockets.
Ishnala Supper Club is not a restaurant. It’s an experience.
At least that’s how owner Bob Prosser refers to his unique supper club, which is tucked deep in the woods of Lake Delton, Wis., just south of Wisconsin Dells.
“You’re not coming here to eat food,” Prosser says. “You can eat food anywhere. We want you to experience the whole thing.”
The “whole thing” starts with the location. Ishnala sits about a mile into the woods, jutting out over Mirror Lake and blanketed by Norway pine trees. The log cabin structure looks perfectly at home in the Wisconsin north woods.
Patrons can walk the paths surrounding the property while being serenaded by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Two decks and two bars overlook the lake.
“It’s such a gorgeous setting,” Prosser says.
And to make sure people take time to soak in the setting rather than eat and run, Prosser has instituted two rules that are rare in the restaurant business these days: No Wi-Fi and no reservations.
“I don’t want them using their phones,” Prosser says. “They need to turn that stuff off and enjoy themselves.”
Without the option of reservations, customers have plenty of time to enjoy.
“I suggest they get here about an hour or so before they want to sit down, and have a Brandy Old Fashioned on the deck while enjoying the supper club experience,” Prosser suggests. “They can put their name in when they get here and then just take their time enjoying the setting and each other.”
The bars and restaurant open at 4 p.m. on weekdays, 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. The menu is diverse and includes rack of lamb, duck, pork ribs, chicken Cordon Bleu and naturally aged steaks.
“Our service is top notch, and our food matches our service,” Prosser says.
Prosser, who also owns three other restaurants, began by working as a busboy at Hoffman House in Wausau, Wis., in 1973. He continued to work with the Hoffman brothers over the years and eventually purchased Ishnala from them in 1999.
“It’s been a privilege to continue the outstanding tradition they began in 1953,” Prosser says.
Actually, the history of Ishnala dates back well before the Hoffmans bought it nearly 65 years ago.
In the language of the Winnebago natives, Ishnala means “By Itself Alone.” The name is symbolic of the point of rock extending over Mirror Lake where the restaurant now sits. Long before the arrival of the first settlers, Ishnala was a ceremonial ground for the Winnebago. Pioneer settlers purchased it from the tribe in 1826 and constructed a log cabin trading post there. In 1909, the Coleman family purchased the cabin and built their home there. The home’s original stone fireplace, log walls and staircase still remain as part of the restaurant’s architecture.
When the Hoffman brothers bought the land, they chose to use what was there and build their restaurant into nature, rather than over it.
Prosser is proud to say that everything is pretty much the same now as it was in the early ‘50s: tranquil, natural, with a wonderful dining experience.
“We don’t want to change it,” he says. “We want to keep it the same.”