by Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon
After serving as a staple for music, entertainment and large social gatherings in Sheboygan County since 1912, Laack’s Tavern and Ballroom in Johnsonville is set to turn the page to a brand new chapter in the coming weeks, which aims to build on the iconic venues longstanding reputation as a bustling hub of community activity.
On Tuesday, Jan. 4, Susan Radke officially assumed ownership of Laack’s Tavern and Ballroom following 109 years in the Laack family at W4302 County JM in the town of Sheboygan Falls unincorporated community of Johnsonville.
Not only is Radke purchasing the venerable Laack’s Ballroom facility, she is also bringing the HUB Studio Cafe along for the ride.
Over the past four and a half years, Radke, who was raised in Endeavor, Wis. and graduated from Portage High School, operated the HUB Studio Cafe adjacent to her Seranya Studios Art Boutique, which she debuted in 2013, at 1611 Eastern Ave. in Plymouth.
“When we learned that we wouldn’t be able to renew our lease at our Plymouth location, I began hunting immediately along with my dear friend and investor, Greg Zahn,” Radke said. “He’s the one that discovered Laack’s was for sale. I’d been to Laack’s, of course, but once I toured it with an eye toward a possible purchase I fell in love with Laack’s.
“The history and importance of this business to Sheboygan County and quite likely all of Wisconsin is incredibly important,” she said. “I gained a great respect for Cark Laack when I spoke to him and for the work the entire family has done to build and maintain Laack’s all these 109 years. Both Greg and I have German roots and we love history, especially local history, I consider us custodians of Laack’s Hall and Tavern. Adding the HUB to this already established business is a new way to help maintain and grow the legacy of Laack’s long into the future. It deserves to live on, and be lovingly grown and developed.”
The multi-talented Radke, who lives in Howards Grove with her husband and oldest twin daughter, Amy, has compiled a highly diverse and successful background of business leadership, managing and ownership.
“After college, I spent 11 years in welding supply distribution management, and served as the president of the American Welding Society Milwaukee Chapter,” Radke said. “This taught me all about just in time inventory control, which I use to minimize waste at the HUB. I bought a flower shop and ran that for a couple of years until my ex-husband took that over, so that gave me great experience in retail.
“After that, I decided to try manufacturing and worked as the customer service department manager at Packaging Corp of America,” she said. “We made boxes for many large local and nationwide companies like Tenneco Packaging – think One Zip and the aluminum pans people use to cook turkeys in at Thanksgiving. I handled the sales and customer service for a number of multi-million dollar accounts and gained experience in manufacturing that is invaluable to what I’m doing today. I have my degree in landscape design and horticulture and have some state awards for landscape design and still do some design work on a very selective basis. I really love plants and people and this is a great way to serve. I’m also an artist which led me to open Seranya Studios Art Boutique and the HUB coffee shop and café is a labor of love meant for my daughters.”
Under Radke’s ownership, the HUB Studio Cafe has made quite an impact in a high-profile location in the city Plymouth over the past four and half years.
“We opened the HUB on Mother’s Day weekend in 2017, after almost a year and a half of planning and build-out of the Plymouth location,” Radke said. “We officially closed our location in Plymouth at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve Day and plan to open The Hub at Laack’s Hall on or as close to January 15th as we can get.”
Looking to the future at the HUB’s new location at Laack’s Hall, Radke is eager to take on yet another entrepreneurial challenge, which will include keeping the Laack’s name alive and maintaining the list of highly popular, traditional annual events at Laack’s Hall, while adding a few new twists.
“We will continue with all the great events the Laacks have created like the Pretzel Bender, Fasching Celebrations, the Country Christmas and Sunday Polka Dances,” Radke said. “Also weddings, corporate banquets, hosting fundraisers and meetings will continue and many of our existing groups from the HUB in Plymouth have committed to following us there. It’s only eight minutes from our current location, so that’s not a problem at all.
“We will also add many events like the art parties and team building events we did with Seranya Studios at our previous location in Plymouth,” she said. “We also have plans to add other types of events like Beer 101, which is an opportunity for guests to enjoy learning about the many different types of beers by sampling and pairing with our delicious menu items. We will continue with delivery and expand our catering capabilities now that our kitchen will be much bigger than what we had in Plymouth.”
Radke is hoping to revive Seranya Studios Art Boutique, while also adding a lodging option to her newly acquired facility later in 2022.
“This summer I hope to be able to renovate the garage on the east side of the building to re-open Seranya Studios and continue my work with my non-profit Seranya Studios Arts Foundation,” Radke said. “We work to help local artists, youth artists and most importantly victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
“After a short time, we will begin renovations on the attached apartment and create a bed and breakfast on the west side of the building,” she said. “We know that Sheboygan County is short on hotel rooms and we think this is a phenomenal opportunity to help Laack’s become even more of a destination location than it already is. Partnering with Johnsonville Sausage Company and particularly with their new Johnsonville Marketplace is another very important step in our Laack’s stewardship.”
According to Radke, her ultimate goal is to combine the historic charm of Laack’s Tavern and Ballroom with the highly engaging, modern appeal of the HUB Studio Cafe for a unique customer experience.
“This is going to be pretty neat,” Radke said. “The old general store at Laack’s is the new home for the HUB. We are giving the space a freshening up, while keeping as much of the historic charm and character as possible.
“We’re also modernizing important things like the internet service because that’s a very important feature or coffee shop lovers,” she said. “We’ll be bringing in fiber, to make sure we can serve the needs of our guests and our own for our business. We invite the neighbors to come and use our internet too, as many are unable to get good internet in that area as of yet. Even though it isn’t more than eight minutes from Plymouth, it seems internet is lacking. We’re planning to help fix that.”
Longtime customers will find the HUB at Laack’s Hall hours and menu to be quite familiar to start with some new offerings likely to be sprinkled in over time.
“For the start, we will stick with the hours we ran in Plymouth and see what the community wants us to do,” Radke said. “Laack’s hours will remain the same in the tavern and we will serve both menus as they are for now. We do have plans for new items as we often do currently have sandwiches and new bakery we add in at the HUB. And who knows? Now that we’ll have a much bigger kitchen space our baker, Amy, is already making plans for some new bakery items we have not even tried at the HUB in Plymouth.
“Regardless, we promise to continue to serve top quality foods that are as locally sourced as possible,” she said.