Flocking to retirement

Gus, the Goose Blind mascot, holds a tray of shots. This year, the restaurant celebrates 35 years of being owned by Mary Rowley. submitted photo 

by Joe Schulz

Thirty-five years ago, Mary Rowley saw a void in Green Lake’s restaurant scene. 

At the time, the area had plenty of fine dining options, but few casual, family-oriented restaurants. To address that problem, Rowley purchased Goose Blind Grill & Bar in 1985. 

“I just knew that the future was going to be food and a bar,” she said. “You couldn’t survive just serving drinks; it needed to be more of a family, all-ages establishment.”

After 35 years of expanding the business, serving the community and watching employees grow, Rowley plans to sell the eatery to someone new. 

Still, she’s proud of the work it took to build the establishment into one of Green Lake’s quintessential eateries.  

One year after buying the building, Rowley took the first step toward converting the business from a hole-in-the-wall bar to a family-friendly restaurant, adding a brick oven for homemade pizza.

Thirty-five years ago, Mary Rowley purchased Goose Blind Grill & Bar with the intent to create a family-oriented restaurant in downtown Green Lake. Today, she’s largely succeeded and is looking to sell the eatery to someone who wants to continue the tradition. Joe Schulz photo 

“It took a long time to get established as a restaurant because this was known more as a drinking spot and not a place you might bring a family for pizza,” she said of the early years. 

After adding pizza to the menu, she worked to obtain financing to renovate the building to increase capacity. 

In February 1987, Rowley added on to three sides of the building, the basement and second story. The renovation created a new kitchen, dining room and upper level to accommodate a banquet venue for live music and entertainment.

“We hosted a lot of bands in the early years,” Rowley said. “We had our own sound and light show up there and then in the summertime, there wasn’t much entertainment [in Green Lake], so we had a band or DJ almost every weekend.”

With the added space, the business took off with an expanded menu and catering options, quickly becoming one of the area’s popular dining establishments. 

“We started serving more food than alcohol, and it turned more into a restaurant,” she said.

Before purchasing Goose Blind, Rowley grew up in Libertyville, Ill., and dreamed of owning a business. She had worked in food service before but had more of an accounting background. 

Her skill with numbers paid dividends when she became a business owner and began studying the restaurant industry. 

She joined the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and regularly attended seminars, as well as began reading “every magazine, periodical [and] anything that had to do with the industry.”

“I learned how you had to have the right food costs, the right labor costs and how to manage liquor costs,” Rowley said. “Since I had a numbers background, I knew right away that you had to watch your costs. This is a penny business; you make pennies on the dollar and if you don’t watch your costs, you go under.”

For Rowley, the most rewarding part of running the business has been seeing the employees grow and building lasting relationships with the people that have worked for her over the years.

“I have one employee where his grandmother started with me in ’87, her three sons worked for me and now her grandsons are working for me,” she said.

The relationships built working at Goose Blind don’t end when an employee moves on as Rowley still gets Christmas cards and family photos from many of her previous employees. 

Additionally, she takes pride in hiring high-schoolers with no prior work experience, and then training them and instilling a sense of work ethic before they leave for college. Rowley believes the key to being a good boss is giving employees room to grow. 

“I had some really good bosses, so I try to be the best boss I can be to help other people grow,” she said.

Rowley also is proud of the bonds she’s formed with other restaurant owners in the area. 

“If they’re short of something, they can always call me and say, ‘Can I borrow this?’ and I’ll help them out, and vice versa,” she said. “I think in a bigger city, you might not have those relationships.”

In a small town such as Green Lake, Rowley feels that as a business owner, she’s obligated to be a good community member by being involved with the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, volunteering at events and finding ways to give back to the community.

Goose Blind donates to a slew of community events, and Rowley even was a founding member of the non-profit Green Lake Renewal, which eventually merged with Town Square. 

After more than three decades as the owner of Goose Blind, Rowley is ready to retire and sell the business. 

However, the potential buyer needs to have the right offer, the desire to maintain the restaurant and be a good community member. 

“I want to see [Goose Blind] continue to be successful, and I’d be willing to help anyone do it,” Rowley said.

Once she gets the right offer, Rowley plans to stay involved in the community. 

“I plan to stay around here via volunteering more,” she said. “Being a good community member is in my blood and I’ll always be involved in the community.”

Beyond staying involved in the community, she’s looking forward to having less stress and enjoying the lake. 

“I want to get a better balance in my personal life and enjoy my next chapter,” Rowley said. “Since Green Lake is so lovely, I really want to enjoy Green Lake more.”

Still, the memories and friendships built at Goose Blind will stay with Rowley for the rest of her life.