Forty-five years after its establishment, Melody Gardens Restaurant & Skateland is as much a family destination as it was when “The Loco-Motion” ranked number six on the Billboard Hot 100 list.
That’s the year Alvin and Glady Brock established what was then known as Melody Gardens Skateland at 1200 S. Oak Ave., Marshfield. It was a family affair, involving the Brocks’ 16 children in various capacities. One of those children, Deb Dietel, purchased the business with her husband, Dan Dietel, in 1993, running it until the Brocks’ daughter Margie Schmidt bought the business with her husband, Dennis Schmidt, in 2012.
Family has been at the heart of the business since its inception and through its evolution to include an ice cream parlor in 1980 that further evolved into a family restaurant in 1990. Homemade ice cream came onto the scene in 1996, another family favorite that also drew the attention of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s “Coolest Things Made in Wisconsin” this past year. In this case, this coolest thing in Wisconsin is literally cool, made with locally sourced cranberries. Cranberry ice cream made its way into the freezer case among 20 other flavors at any given time (Melody Gardens has 80 different recipes) after Wisconsin Farm Technology Days’ planners asked about it when they were hosting the event in Wood County.
Wood County is one of the top three Wisconsin counties to produce cranberries, and Wisconsin ranks number one in cranberry production. Two months before the three-day event, the show’s coordinators said they wanted to “do this.”
“We’d never done cranberry ice cream before, but we had to jump on it. We worked with a place in Illinois where they made the flavor for us, and all the cranberries are from local Wood County farmers,” said Margie Schmidt. “Dennis went to work making tweaks to perfect the recipe.”
After the Farm Technology coordinators tasted and approved it, they requested the cranberry ice cream as well as stand-bys vanilla and chocolate ice cream for the event. “But cranberry was the most popular and they sold it like crazy,” Margie said. “Dennis made more at night, but it has to sit for 24 hours in the freezer before it can be served. It was a very, very good seller.”
The event sold nearly 900 gallons of Melody Gardens’ ice cream. Now, cranberry ice cream rotates in and out of the ice cream freezer alongside the most popular choices, homemade chocolate, chocolate peanut butter and vanilla. Melody Gardens also participates in many fund-raisers and cranberry is often at the top of the request list.
During the summer, Dennis makes more than 100 gallons of ice cream on the premises every week.
Ice cream, however, is by far not the only draw. On one side of the building, the facility offers its restaurant, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. On the other side is a roller rink that tends to be busiest on the weekends.
“My husband and I still skate every weekend with the kids even though it’s more of a teenage crowd,” she said. “The kids like seeing us out there.”
Margie has made more circles around that rink than she could possibly count. She grew up in the business, leaving to attend college and working an accounting job before returning to the family business full time.
“There were maybe three years I wasn’t here, but once I came back on, this was my only job,” she said. Dennis worked in the construction industry for about 25 years until they purchased the business from Margie’s sister.
Many of the Brock family’s children and grandchildren pitch in. Margie’s parents, at 83 and 88 years old, still come in to help if needed during daytime school parties, as do her siblings and nieces and nephews. A couple of her sisters are on the payroll regularly.
“We have a lot of family who come and help anytime we ask,” she said. That includes the Schmidts’ two sons who work in the restaurant part-time.
Family members aren’t the only constant — so are many customers, from the older clientele who make their way to the restaurant for a meal every day to the families who dine at the restaurant and then roller skate as a family.
While the restaurant draws primarily locals, the roller rink draws guests from Wausau and farther, especially during the winter and on weekends. Monthly Christian Music Skate, character skates and birthday packages are good draws for the rink.
On the other side of the building, the restaurant, in addition to drawing regulars, also attracts people in town for healthcare appointments. Melody Gardens is known for its homestyle cooking. Many recipes are made from scratch including soups such as the chicken dumpling that appears on the menu every Tuesday. There are menu favorites that bring people in including baked chicken on Sundays and fish on Fridays.
“We work really hard to keep our prices reasonable while delivering a good homemade meal,” Margie said. Sunday mornings and Friday evenings are probably the busiest.
Many customers who visited the rink as children are returning with their own children.
“The biggest thing we repeatedly hear is that people are thankful that we are still here,” she said. “They say, ‘We’re so happy you’re still here so we can bring our kids.’ We also get a lot of people stopping in when they’re back in the area for their favorites.”
“It’s definitely an all-in-the-family kind of business,” she said. “My husband and I actually met here, and we count all the people we’ve met over the years as one of the highlights of the business.”
Melody Gardens has undergone some upgrades and updating inside the building, and the Schmidts hope to refresh the outside this coming year, but as far as they’re concerned, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
“We’re fortunate to have a very good community following that is very good to us and support us,” Margie said. “That’s also why we love doing things for the community. Very little has changed with the day-to-day operations.”
The operation requires about 45 employees, between the rink and the restaurant, many of whom worked for the Brocks, then Schmidt’s sister and now for her. “That’s another thing the community notices. Our staff is very good, knows what they’re doing and take care of them.”