When Karen and Leo Dillenburg bought the War Bonnet Bar & Grill in Keshena in January 2009, they knew they had some fixing up to do to serve their diverse customer base.
When they reopened in January 2010, the business, which was established in the mid-1960s took on a new look and featured an extensive menu with Native American items including fry bread, Indian tacos and wild rice pizzas.
“We did a complete remodel of the building on the inside and outside to enhance the visual appearance,” said Karen. “This included putting in a kitchen to offer an additional option for community members to dine at.”
The updates also included upgrades to the existing horseshoe pits and the addition of volleyball courts. The grill also offers burgers, pizza, homemade fries, Friday fish fry, broasted chicken, steaks, salads and more. They also offer catering for special events. Breakfast is served Saturdays and Sundays.
The Native American gift shop, added in 2015, offers locally made hand-beaded jewelry, wood carvings, leather moccasins, paintings and Dream Catchers. The gift shop also includes a variety of furs including timberwolves, wolverines and all-local fur bearers.
Because of the diverse customer base served by the War Bonnet, they are focused on balancing the services they provide.
“We have to be aware of the cultural and economic differences with all of those who patronize our establishment,” Karen said. “We try to attract a wide customer base without losing our identity of the greater community we serve.”
To accomplish this, the Dillenburgs have invested in active employee training to make sure customers are treated equally with a high level of customer service.
“We need to make sure that the local people feel comfortable in our establishment and continue to feel like they belong there while trying to bring in new customers from outside the community,” she said.
Although 50 percent of the War Bonnet staff has been there five years or longer, a significant issue is the struggle to keep quality employees willing to work at entry-level positions.
“Most people don’t think of working at a bar and grill as a career but rather a job to hold them over until something better comes along,” Leo said. “We spend significant time and energy hiring, training and motivating employees.”
Since opening, a number of community events have been initiated—including a free veterans meal on Memorial Day, a free community Christmas Dinner, the annual pig roast, and a free corn roast event in August. The War Bonnet also has supported a number of youth-oriented community initiatives and organizations, such as Woodland Boys & Girls, Johnson O’Malley, Youth Fishing Tournament and the Neopit Soap Box Derby..
In addition, the War Bonnet sponsors volleyball, horseshoe, dart and pool teams that participate in traveling leagues.
“We also offer an option to all nonprofit organizations to promote an event here, and they’ll receive 15 percent of the sales for a given period of time,” Karen said.
Constant updates and enhancements are always on their mind. “When we recognized an apparent need in our community for banking services, we registered with the IRS to become a formal check cashing business,” Leo said.
In 2016, the War Bonnet also added tours of the Menominee Indian Reservation by purchasing a 10-passenger bus.
The continued improvements have been a success. The business was recently named the 2017 Retail Business of the Year by the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce.
“We have seen a 7 percent increase in sales for most years since we opened in 2010,” Leo said. “Most of this has been achieved by making timely expansions to what we offer.”
The Dillenburgs said that the best part of their work is enhancing the communities they serve.
“We strive to make this better all the time, and make sure everyone is treated respectfully,” Karen said.