On a snowy December day in 1976, Jim and Dianna Klismet came to Waupaca, ready to set roots in a new community.
Thirty-some years later, the business that brought their family here has seen many changes and much growth.
“We wouldn’t have grown without the support of Waupaca,” Dianna said.
Jim is often asked when he plans to retire to which he replies, “I’m not. This is my hobby.”
Eventually, he will retire. In the meantime, he and Dianna, along with sons Todd and Steve, continue working together at Klismet’s Three Squares Restaurant and Waupaca Mobil Travel Center.
Their business is the winner of two awards from the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce – the 2011 Large Business of the Year and the 2011 Grand Facelift.
The Chamber presented the awards during its annual awards program Tuesday at Waupaca Ale House.
The Klismet’s arrival in Waupaca was after 13 moves in 13 years.
Jim and Dianna were living in Des Moines, Iowa when an opportunity to purchase a business in Waupaca became available to them.
At the time, Jim was managing several retail stores. He and Dianna are both from Stevens Point, and Jim began looking for a business to buy, because they wanted to return to Wisconsin.
As a teen, Jim had worked for Carl Lutz, and he remarked to Lutz that if there was ever anything for sale in his native state, he might be interested in looking at it and buying it.
“I had told him I didn’t have a lot of money. We had four of the five kids,” Jim said.
Several weeks later, Jim received a call from Lutz and was soon driving from Des Moines to Stevens Point to meet with him.
“I sat down with him. We put a business deal together on a land contract. We would not probably be here if not for Carl,” Jim said.
On Dec. 1, 1976, they bought the Union 76 truck stop and then preceded to buy the Three Squares Restaurant.
Their three oldest sons – Kurt, Todd and Steve – grew up in retail, with their two youngest sons – Jamie and Scott – also involved in the business.
“Dad always had us doing something on the side, so we could learn how to deal with customers,” Steve said. As teens, Kurt, Todd and Steve were set up with an old railroad wagon outside the truck stop to sell such things as corn and potatoes.
“When we were young, he was grooming each of us to take part of the business. Each of us chose different paths. It ended up with Todd and I being here. We adjusted what needed to be done with Todd and I coming on board. We all have the same passion but different ideas on how to accomplish things. I think the reason for a lot of our success is that we can work together, knowing we’re on the same page,” Steve said.
Through the years, they have doubled the size of the restaurant, added on to the convenience store, expanded their parking and added a car wash. Most recently, the “Beer Cave” was added to their business and changes were made inside the convenience store, including larger restrooms and the addition of gourmet coffee and more food choices, such as soup. The car wash has new equipment, and their offices moved from within the store to the house on the top of the hill, allowing room for future growth in the store.
Today, they employ 50 people.
The family believes in supporting other local businesses. They used 17 local contractors for their most recent project.
Jim says his five sons received a well-rounded education by working in the family’s business.
“There’s not a single job here I haven’t done,” Todd said.
Steve said they have been on a parallel path with other families who went into business. “It’s a lot of fun watching the success of others,” he said.
Their business is known for its large American flag, and the family is known for its service to the community.
Dianna said they are a Christian family. “God closes a door and opens a window,” she said. “We practice our faith. Rather than thinking the glass is half empty, it’s half full. Things happen. It’s how you can turn it into a positive. And, let God’s will be done, and it always works out.”
Terri Schulz, president of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, said, “They’re very deserving, especially for the Large Business of the Year Award. They’ve been in the community a long time. They’re very community minded.”
She describes their business as a fixture in the community, and in regard to the Grand Facelift Award, said, “They’ve always tried to make improvements to their business, to grow with changes, keep up with trends.”
On being the recipient of the two awards, Todd said, “It’s humbling. We’re very grateful. There’s a lot of people doing great things in Waupaca. That’s the humbling part.”
Jim said, “It is the people that we have that make our job a lot easier. It just doesn’t happen by itself. It’s the people, and I’m very grateful to them.”