Title goes to former Pine Tree owner
By Scott Bellile
Arlene Birkholz spent many Marches at The Pine Tree Supper Club serving mouth-watering Irish dishes to hungry St. Paddy’s Day celebrants.
This year the Shamrock Club of New Dublin, the chief organizers of New London’s St. Patrick’s Day Grand Parade and Irish Fest, thanked the former restaurant owner by serving her a pleasant surprise: The dignitary title of Irish Rose.
“She was shaking. She was so excited,” daughter Corinne Dorsey said of her mother when she learned the news from Shamrock Club of New Dublin member Judy McDaniel.
“I got off the barstool so fast. I was shocked,” said Arlene Birkholz, 85, who insisted she had “never done nothing to people” to deserve the Irish Rose honor.
McDaniel denied that.
“Actually I nominated her because even though she’s German, she’s a pillar of the community, I think, and everybody knows her,” McDaniel said. “The whole Pine Tree crew here has been very supportive of the Shamrock Club so we just felt it would be an honor to honor her.”
Arlene Birkholz helps Mary Culligan prepare the shamrock cookies for residents of The Washington Center, St. Joseph Residence and the Franklin Park Apartments. Her family also donates to the Shamrock Club to support the annual Irish Fest.
And of course, the restaurant that she operated for many years with her late husband Fred remains a hub on “Hooligan Day,” each Tuesday during St. Patrick’s week.
Festive New Londoners come out to The Pine Tree on State Highway 54 to enjoy popular dishes such as corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie and Reuben sandwiches. (Customers mowed through 150 beef briskets so quickly last March that The Pine Tree ordered 30 more this year to prevent another crisis.)
Arlene Birkholz recalled how her involvement in The Pine Tree began.
Thirteen years into their marriage, Fred and Arlene Birkholz were living as farmers south of White Lake near Weyauwega area when their lifestyle suddenly changed in 1963.
“Freddy always wanted to own a bar for some reason that was in his [blood], so we bought a bar,” Arlene Birkholz said.
She and Fred Birkholz took a driving trip to look at taverns for sale. On the way home, they stopped at The Pine Tree bar and dancehall in the town of Mukwa for a sandwich. They told then-owner Paul Zemke that they was looking to buy a bar.
Fred Birkholz was on the phone with Zemke’s realtor that night. The Birkholzes sold half their farm, rented out the farmhouse and moved the family into the upstairs of The Pine Tree.
Built in the 1930s, the building was originally the Pine Tree cheese factory. It was named after a pair of tall white pine trees that stood out front until they were cut down to make way for a widened State Highway 54. Incidentally, Birkholz’s father, Art Cruger, was a member of that tree-chopping crew.
When the Birkholzes took over, they made the Pine Tree a supper club. The current bar area used to be the entire dining facility and seated around 30 people.
Arlene Birkholz admitted she had reservations about raising her children in a bar setting, but she said they turned out fine. The family would take Mondays off to have picnics, water-ski or go out for dinner.
In the early days, Arlene Birkholz said, beer cost 10 cents and all-you-can-eat lake perch was $1.25.
As any small business owner can understand, Arlene Birkholz said The Pine Tree had its ups and downs. But for many years they could always rely on the business of the farmers who came to play cards after they finished their chores.
In the mid-1980s, the Birkholzes nearly tripled The Pine Tree’s size by expanding the upstairs apartment, kitchen and dining room. Now it seats approximately 100 people.
In the 1990s, they passed on The Pine Tree to four of their five children: Corinne Dorsey, Debbie Olson, Sue Wood and Mark Birkholz.
Arlene Birkholz also has a fifth child, Sandy Romberg, who decided to go into nursing rather than the family business.
Arlene and Fred Berkholz remained involved as long as they were able to. Fred Birkholz died in 2008.
Arlene Birkholz continues to live upstairs and comes down for her meals and coffee. She noted she has a special nickname among the Pine Tree crowd.
“Most people don’t know my name; [to them]it’s just Grandma,” she said. “I’ve been here so long.”
The community will celebrate all things Irish at the St. Patrick’s Day Grand Parade on Saturday, March 17, at 1 p.m. in downtown New Dublin.
Once New Dublin week concludes, the celebrations will not stop at The Pine Tree. Next week for four days the supper club will celebrate its 55-year anniversary. On Saturday, March 24, musician Dustin Lee performs and there will be hourly prize giveaways and snacks.