LORI CSASZAR AND Chris Barbin, owners of Thunderboss, sit at one of the many seats with views of Green Lake. Ian Stepleton photo
by Ian Stepleton
It started as a team-building exercise.
Lori Csaszar and Chris Barbin, husband-and-wife owners of the soon-to-open Thunderboss Bar & Grill in Green Lake, challenged their new managers.
“We had three hours with $500 to spend in the community on anything we wanted that would be décor for the building,” Csaszar said of dividing the group into two teams. “The goal was to be the most economical and find the coolest stuff.”
But $500 doesn’t go far when it comes to outfitting an entire restaurant. So the teams got creative.
“We made one call to Bur Zeratsky,” Csaszar said.
The longtime Green Laker had a building full of local history, ready to be plucked.
“[So] we started saying, ‘Should we call Joe Norton? Should we call Al Walker?’ We literally hit every long-generation family here …,” Csaszar said. “[Now] most of our restaurant will be decorated by these long-generation families, which we’re really excited about.”
Csaszar and Barbin hope that excitement, and the sense of camaraderie built by the Thunderboss team, spilled into customers’ experiences when the restaurant opened last week.
After a frenetic year of work, the lakeside bar and restaurant is ready for customers, for whom owners are offering a family-friendly, come-as-you-are spot for everyone to enjoy.
“I have an incredible sense of pride in what we’ve been able to build, and the relationships we’ve been able to build within the town,” Barbin said. “And to pull something off this fast — there were a lot naysayers. ‘There’s no way you’re opening this summer.’ From purchase to go live in under a year is really cool.”
That year has been filled with not only the logistical efforts of permitting and constructing a building, but the behind-the-scenes work of assembling a team and constructing a menu.
That’s a sizeable puzzle to piece together, especially for two first-time restaurateurs who created Thunderboss on a dream.
“It was widespread when you talked to community members or lake vacationers in the summer that they felt very strongly that there was something missing on the water,” Csaszar said of a need for a “casual, family-friendly, lake-side” restaurant. “There are very limited options to sit on the water, eat or drink, let your kids roam and run.”
So when they saw the property at 477 Bayview Court was for sale last year, Csaszar and Barbin decided to create one themselves.
They closed on the property June 29, 2017 — almost a year ago to the day — and then set out on the hard part.
“To me, the key was the team. Everyone will tell you in the restaurant business it’s all about the [staff]. They’re hard to come by and they’re hard to keep,” Barbin said.
Through largely referral, they identified four managers to lead the restaurant: assistant general manager/events Leah Oxsen, head chef Trent Hazelberg, sous chef Jim Feider and bar manager Alex Sommer.
They came from near and far. Hazelberg is a Green Lake native returning home with hefty credentials, bringing with him Feider, with whom he worked with at Kohler.
Oxsen, meanwhile, previously worked with Barbin out in Silicon Valley, while Sommer will be new to the Green Lake community as well.
“Chris and Lori [drew me to this venture],” Oxsen said. “I worked for Chris at a tech company … for a couple years, and he … is someone you want to listen to and follow, and is all about ‘team’ and having a good time while working your ass off.”
Hazelberg agreed with her assessment of the owners, adding that he’s also happy to come home after many years away. “There’s a large, soft spot in my heart for Green Lake; I’ve been trying to come back for a couple years now. A couple of the opportunities I’ve had just didn’t make sense for me … so it’s been a very nice homecoming for me and my family.”
Over this past year, as Barbin focused on creating a special look and feel for the restaurant, Hazelberg worked with Feider to put together a menu they feel the community will enjoy.
The final product is a menu that features a variety of fish, meat and pasta entrees, burgers and sandwiches, salads and soups — with prices ranging from $7 to $26.
“I think it’s a competitive price point; it’s a great value for the food that you’re getting,” Oxsen said.
“We wanted to find a family-friendly, price-oriented restaurant on the lake. We started brainstorming from there,” Hazelberg said, noting they also “wanted to have fun” while creating the menu.
That meant fun twists on familiar favorites, as well as “punny” names.
Playing off the fact that Csaszar is from Pittsburgh originally, they transformed a Philly cheesesteak “into ‘The Willy,’” Hazelberg said. “We have red peppers and white onions — go Bucky! — and then instead of shaved beef on there we have braised beef. So, a little more Wisconsin, a little more meaty.”
Fresh, and often local ingredients, take center stage, the chefs explained.
“It’s amazing to me … the amount of talent in the artisan world around here; it was very inspiring to me,” Hazelberg said.
The menu, they added, isn’t overwhelming.
“We wanted to make it really straightforward, so when you sit down with the menu, you don’t get lost,” Feider said.
Less straightforward is their most unique creation.
“Lori called me up late one night … and said, ‘Hey, Trent, I know you’re not really going to like this, but, I’d really like to see a turkey burger on the menu,’” Hazelberg said, noting he was not on board — at least initially — with the idea.
Then he had a brainstorm he shared with Feider.
“I said, ‘What do you think about a gyro turkey burger?’” Hazelberg said.
Working over the winter at Town Square’s industrial kitchen, they tried it out.
“We came up with this recipe … and it literally tastes like lamb,” he said.
“It’s one of the few things we did as a one-take thing, and we were like, ‘We need to write that down right now!’” Feider added. “I really hope everyone will get behind the turkey burger.”
The restaurant also offers twin bars for customers, one on each floor, with their own twist.
“Something fun that we are going to have … is a three- to four-person drink. We have a 192-ounce Moscow Mule and 192-ounce wine glass,” Sommer said. “That’s something fun, especially for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, girls’ night out.”
As the menu and bar plans came together, so did the structure of the restaurant.
“The inspiration came from meeting with John Loberg … He sketched out a concept that is barn-inspired …,” Barbin said. “We called the design ‘barn-industrial.’”
The restaurant, now completed, is adorned from head to foot with natural woods, and accented liberally with exposed steel, all fabricated locally.
“We could have gone outside [for craftsmen]; we chose not to. And we’ve been thrilled …,” Barbin said. “There’s some real great talent around here.”
Seating, meanwhile, takes into account the lake-side location.
“We wanted it to be comfortable, family-friendly — so that if somebody runs in with their bathing suit on, they can sit down … and still enjoy an awesome meal,” Barbin said, pointing out the water-resistant seating.
The building design doesn’t ignore the prime location, either.
“I think what’s nice is the view down the lake. When you go to different establishments [around Green Lake] you’re not able to see all the way down the lake … With us, you see straight up the lake,” Oxsen said of the liberal use of windows.
The second floor of the restaurant, in particular, makes strong use of the vista.
“We designed a U-shaped bar and all the seating to look directly west over the lake … to take advantage of the views,” Barbin said.
When building the restaurant, he also funded an addition onto the Deacon Mills Park wharf, which now extends all the way to Thunderboss, with its own pier for boaters to dock at for a quick bite.
The wharf also acts as a conduit between downtown Green Lake and the new restaurant.
“We are walking distance from downtown,” Oxsen said.
Customers coming by car, though, are being asked not to take Bayview Court but Lake Street, off of which they may access Thunderboss’s parking lot.
The restaurant will take advantage of the view in another way, too.
“We’re going to be live-streaming the lake from our web page. That’s common on ski resorts, not on Green Lake, Wis.,” Barbin said.
In another nod to being on the water, Thunderboss also will try out a special breakfast.
“On the weekends in the summer season, we are going to do a grab-and-go breakfast …,” Csaszar said. “There’s nowhere to go on the water for a quick bite.”
“It’s just a really great location. You can pull right up with your boat and walk right in, have a drink, or an appetizer or food,” Oxsen added.
The restaurant will be open daily throughout the summer, with a full menu for lunch and dinner.
Summer hours will be Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Initially we were going to be a seasonal restaurant only, but because of the outpour from the community to ‘please stay open,’ we’ll give it a try” to stay open through the rest of the year as well, Csaszar said, noting off-season hours will be shorter but filled with activities. “We hope to do a lot of fun events … doing fun things with Badger and Packer games [and more].”
Though Green Lake has a peak season, Barbin and Csaszar hope the restaurant connects with locals, too.
“We spent a lot of time over the last year getting to know the community,” Barbin said.
“We’re not native Green Lakers, though now we feel like native Green Lakers,” Csaszar said, noting that while Thunderboss isn’t a sports bar, it will be a great place to see a game. “I’m really proud that with the technology and the TVs we are putting in [we can offer all the major sports packages].”
With a year of work now nearly complete, the owners and managers simply were looking forward to the opening.
“We want to do a lot of great things for the community,” Sommer said.
“I just want to open those doors and have customers and provide them excellent service and have a great time,” Oxsen added.
“We truly hope the community enjoys this and embraces us and gives us a chance as first-time restaurateurs …,” Csaszar said. “We will listen and we make adjustments for them, because this is really about the community, not us.”
For more information about Thunderboss Bar & Grill, call 294-0443 or visit www.thunderboss.com.