The Pine Tree Supper Club has kept the Birkholz family working together for the past 50 years.
Fred and Arlene Birkholz established the business in 1963.
Since 1985, the Pine Tree Supper Club has been owned and operated by their children Mark Birkholz, Corinne Dorsey, Debbie Olson and Sue Wood.
“We’re lucky,” Wood said, “We get along very well.”
“There are always going to be trying times, but we work through it,” Olson said.
The important thing is to spend time with family away from work, Arlene said. When the children were young, they closed the Pine Tree for a week every July and took a family vacation.
She said the Birkholz children learned to wait tables and help with the business at an early age. She noted working at the Pine Tree has helped put many of her children and grandchildren through college.
“They all learned to work,” Arlene said.
“We worked at the Pine Tree from the time we could get our hands in the sink to do dishes,” Olson said. “And, we all learned to work together – that’s why (the partnership) works so well.”
Fred and Arlene’s oldest daughter, Sandy, is not a partner in the business. She recently retired after working as a labor and delivery nurse at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton.
“She is a big part of the family,” Olson said, “She just doesn’t work here.”
Fred and Arlene have six children, 10 grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and 12 1/2 great-grandchildren. Most of the great-grandchildren are under the age of six.
Fred passed away about five years ago, but his presence continues to be felt. His children remember his stories and his laughter and still find themselves making comments to him as they work at the Pine Tree.
After losing her husband and soul mate, Arlene continued to live in the upstairs apartment and often helps with hostess duties.
She says her family is her inspiration.
“I wouldn’t want to be here if all my children and grandchildren weren’t around,” she said. “They are my world.”
Last year, Arlene expected to celebrate her 80th birthday quietly because all of her family members planned to be “out of town.” One daughter took her overnight to a hotel in Wisconsin Dells. She was shocked to find every family member there for a surprise party.
The family makes it a point to get together as often as possible, which is hard when they run a supper club which is only closed on Mondays and some holidays.
The Pine Tree is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. Those are considered family holidays and the door stays locked at the Pine Tree – the parking lot may be full, but it’s all family members (and sometimes friends) inside.
“It’s amazing how much fun our family has together,” Dorsey said.
“We are like best friends,” she said. “We hang out together. If there’s a party, we all go.”
Pine Tree history
The original building, the Pine Tree cheese factory, was built in the 1930s.
It was named Pine Tree because of the large white pine trees located out in front. Coincidentally, Arlene’s father was part of the crew which cut down those trees in order for the new highway to be built.
Years later, the building was converted into a dance hall and small bar, still named Pine Tree.
Fred and Arlene Birkholz were married in 1950 and had a dairy farm in the Weyauwega area. They had always loved the New London area and knew it was the right thing to do when they purchased the property in 1963.
In the early years, the Pine Tree was quite a bit smaller than it is now. The current bar area used to be the entire area.
What was originally a bar, dining room, kitchen and single bathroom, with a small living quarters upstairs, is now a large bar and lounge area.
The Pine Tree almost tripled in size in 1984 with the addition of a large dining room and party room area, along with a hostess area, new kitchen, additional bathrooms and rooms added to the upstairs apartment.
Pine Tree Supper Club offers a fine dining experience complete with the highest quality meats, seafood and cocktails at an affordable price.
An original definition of a supper club was a place where guests were brought to the bar area to order dinners and refreshments, then later seated at a table where everything was brought to them.
“Fred ‘Grandpa’ always said that in a nice supper club, you don’t get up and stand in line for salad and soup – everything gets brought to you,” Wood said.
“We still follow all of these rules and traditions today,” she added. “We pride ourselves on making sure all our customers receive great drinks, delicious meals and an all-around pleasurable experience.”
The Pine Tree is known for its Old Fashioned cocktail and prime rib.
“Many of our soups, spices, dressings and sauces are old family secrets,” Wood said. “Good luck trying to get our wine and butter sauce or bar mushroom recipes.”
The Pine Tree has had two main chefs over the past 50 years.
Marilyn Oertel was the main chef for the first 25 years.
The current chef is Patty Pantalons, who has worked at the Pine Tree for the past 25 years.
The Pine Tree has relied mostly on family help until the expansion and ownership change 28 years ago.
“It was hard the first few years because we had to hire,” Wood said.
They currently have about 34 part-time employees and two full-time cooks. The four owners also work full-time, although they all have other jobs.