Story by Mike Shaw | Photos by Heidi Hodges
Such was the case with Inn at Cedar Crossing, a hospitality cornerstone of Sturgeon Bay’s downtown for almost 35 years. After being purchased in September 2017 by brother-sister John and Margi Getzloff, a flurry of activity overtook the combination quaint guesthouse and upper-quality restaurant at North Third Avenue and Louisiana Street.
“It needed new coats of paint, new carpeting in spots…new bedding, fresh linens, clean it up for less clutter, completely redid two of the bathrooms,” said new general manager Reagan Smoker, 39, the Getzloffs’ niece.
She was speaking specifically about the nine snug, B&B-sized guest rooms upstairs, two of which were completely remodeled recently. But she could have been talking in broader strokes about the entire building that dates to the late 19th century and to the overall functioning of the business.
Smoker said communication is one of her strengths—one-on-one and on social media—and a skill she further developed working in retail management in Philadelphia and two days a week in New York City. Touching all of the business bases has been critical to sending a newfound charge of energy through what locals call simply “The Inn.”
“There are four businesses under this roof—restaurant, inn, bakery, bar—so we wanted to make sure that (cooperation) was happening,” she said. “I just thought my strengths fit well with some of the things we wanted to do.
“Community involvement is big for me. Sturgeon Bay is not as far along (in the tourism trade) as up north, so we wanted to be one of the leaders on the block to work with the Visitor Bureau on that. We’re looking at something like a restaurant week for Sturgeon Bay; we did a beer garden for Harvest Fest, just some new things to bring some excitement.”
The historic building went up in 1884 and has housed a tailor, shoe store, soda fountain/drugstore and clothier. Third Avenue was called Cedar Street then and intersecting Louisiana Street was Cottage Street—hence the name “Cedar Crossing.”
The shoe store’s original owner in 1896 was A.W. Lawrence, one of the city and county’s foremost early merchants and movers-and-shakers. In 1907, the pharmacy became home to the first woman to ply that trade in Wisconsin, Hester Laurie Hansen.
Apartments had always been located on the second floor. The Inn’s developer and first proprietor, Terri Wulf, turned those rooms into a full-fledged bed-and-breakfast in May 1986.
The downstairs restaurant opened nearly three years later to the day, specializing in scratch baked goods and homemade dishes made from fresh, mostly Door County ingredients. It was a locally sourced eatery before that movement was the commonplace rage in food circles.
“The history is what’s awesome about this building and knowing that it’s been here so long,” Smoker said. “My dad remembers when it was a shoe store, and everyone who comes in has some story connected to the building and how it’s always been some type of meeting place. That’s what this building was meant for.”
Her father and paternal grandparents are Door County natives. Smoker spent many summer vacations here as a child and adult and made other visits “unfortunately, for funerals.”
She and her Aunt Margi swapped hometowns last summer when Getzloff decided to relocate back to Pennsylvania with a boyfriend. John Getzloff lives in Chicago during the week and leaves day-to-day management to his niece, but checks in most weekends.
“I came here to spend the (2018) summer as an ‘intern,’” she joked. “I didn’t plan to stay, but you never know how the world’s going to work. I always loved visiting, but in the past it was always for quick family outings and I never got to do any of the activities.
“So I thought, why not get a change of scenery? I love all it has to offer with nature, love walking my dog down along the (Sturgeon Bay) canal.”
Some of the changes took hold before Smoker became GM in September, some after.
Margi Getzloff redid the already-elegant dining room last year in navy tones for a feeling that is “soothing and upscale but still very comfortable,” Smoker said. “We can’t be a dark, dingy, dinner-by-candlelight place.”
A new sign on the front façade, put up around Labor Day, is an understated but striking design of basic white-on-black block lettering. It also gives the restaurant an obvious, noticeable entrance off Third Avenue, while bakery customers are directed to a smaller doorway around the corner on Louisiana Street, the same one the inn’s guests use. The bar’s doors are to the north (left) of the restaurant’s.
“The restaurant sign is easier to drive by and notice now, seeing that we have three separate entrances (vying for people’s eyes),” Smoker said.
The bakery has its own private little cafe in that back room for coffee, pie and pastry treats, with seating for a dozen apart from the relative bustle of the dining area and barroom up front. The bakery also got its own checkout counter, so pastry buyers are not competing for attention at the host stand with diners paying their tabs.
“There’s less congestion up front now,” Smoker said. “It got a little loud in the past (when both groups co-mingled). Now (bakery customers) can just swing out that back way quicker, and there’s less of a wait for the people in the restaurant, too.”
A new chef, Jim Hopkins, and new bar manager, Jenna Kasten, were hired.
To an outside observer, the bar, in particular, was crying out for some restored glory. Once a popular, romantic spot for after-dinner drinks and happy-hour gatherings among downtown employees, sidewalk strollers in recent times saw just a nondescript storefront window, not entirely empty on the other side, but bordering on lifeless.
“I would say it was under-utilized,” Smoker agreed. “It didn’t have much of a crowd.”
Kasten is leading the makeover, as she plans to more than double the taps from three to eight, all serving craft beer. She’s also looking at trimming the domestic bottled offerings in favor of a balance between those and the import and small-batch brands that are increasingly in demand.
The emphasis will be on Wisconsin brewers though not exclusively, Kasten said. The Inn has its own house-made mix for Bloody Marys and sweet-and-sour for margaritas. A cherry martini has been rebranded as the Door County Cherry Cosmopolitan, just as the reuben on the lunch menu has been given a local twist by naming it in honor of the Cedar Street of yesteryear.
Sippers seem to be rediscovering the spot, as more and more of the 30 seats at the bar counter and tables fill up daily.
Other ideas and innovations are in progress or bouncing around—a baby-steps return to catering, a priority of original owner Terri Wulf when she opened the restaurant in 1989; dinner-and-wine nights in the winter with chef Hopkins picking the pairings; and seasonal menus.
Of the latter, Smoker said, “We would still have our amazing pork chop but maybe with a different sauce (reflecting the calendar).”
“The majority of the people who come in absolutely love what we’ve done,” she added. “There are some who are, ‘Oh, why did you change it?’ because it had been their comfort zone. But the out-of-town people who don’t know the (before and after) difference love it, and most of the locals enjoy the changes, too.”
New chef Hopkins, a native of Minnesota, has run the kitchen or owned restaurants from a hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Cayman Islands, from Florida to the Twin Cities and in Wisconsin.
He once owned his own restaurant in Wisconsin Rapids, but it struggled after the local paper mill closed. He has also been head chef of a wine bar in Chippewa Falls and executive chef of both a Cajun restaurant in Eau Claire and a Nekoosa casino opened by the late Max McGee, a Packers wide receiver during the Lombardi years.
The Getzloffs gave a tour to Hopkins and his wife when they stopped in for some bakery during a Door County visit. The couple have a son who lives in Green Bay.
“It was a unique setting, so I had it in the back of my mind that it would be a nice place to look at with the kind of food they serve and the atmosphere,” Hopkins said. “We’re looking at keeping the favorites, but maybe changing some that aren’t working and improving them.”
“The perch, we never want to change, (or) the wonderful pork chops, the tenderloin, the walleye,” Smoker added. “We do really well with chicken risotto.
“Something like the pesto stuffed chicken breast, it might be with a different sauce, different sides, and the soups and veggies rotating. Maybe more broccoli, more root vegetables, more Brussels sprouts; there’s fresh produce everywhere in summer.”
The two also are experimenting with specials not regularly found on the menu. “We did a scallops special a few nights ago,” Smoker said. “We don’t want to shock the world with these, but just once or twice a week add some freshness and life to the menu.”
Plus Hopkins and the bakery staff are exemplifying the cross-department cooperation Smoker has ingrained.
“He shares ideas for bakery recipes, and they give him biscuits for the restaurant,” she said.
A simple plan, but not always easy when dueling personalities are involved. Sounds like a recipe for success.