Maple Tree Supper Club owner Gary Seiler announced his retirement to employees Sunday, Feb. 9, after running the business for 35 years.
Upon his retirement, Seiler sold the McFarland mainstay to longtime employees Justin Couey and Clifford White, a process that has been underway for one year.
“The timing is right, and they had the passion that they want to do this and take over,” Seiler said.
Seiler purchased Maple Tree Supper Club in 1985 after being a store manager at McDonald’s for 10 years. Both of his daughters have worked at the restaurant, and two of his granddaughters currently work there.
“I still enjoy this immensely, I have to,” Seiler said. “To be in this kind of business, you have to enjoy it, but we’re all not getting any younger. It’s more or less a time to cut the strings and let somebody else take over.”
Seiler hopes to keep the homey supper club tradition alive but understands with new ownership comes change.
“They’re going to have their own style and that’s what personalities do. They put their own marks on things,” Seiler said. “But them being younger, they’ve got the opportunity to work with me for the last nine and 17 years.”
When Seiler describes purchasing the Maple Tree Supper Club with partner Ron Calloway, who retired in 2002, the pair “had the keys just handed to us and that was about it.”
“I wish Cliff and Justin the best of luck, but luck doesn’t have a lot to do with it. It’s going to boil down to the hard work that they’re going to be able to need to do for it, which they know. They know it’s not going to be easy.”
Couey and White will have longer to adjust as Seiler plans to officially retire in June. The new ownership team will be left with what Seiler describes as the best team the restaurant has ever had.
“It means a lot when you have people showing up and doing their jobs all the time, so it’s hard to walk away when everything is running as well as it can be, and business has never been better,” he said.
Upon announcing his retirement, Seiler noted that 90 percent of the 40-45 employees were in attendance, despite it being in the midst of a snowstorm. Some employees have been with the restaurant for more than 30 or 40 years.
“I don’t break down very often, but it was very hard,” Seiler said. “It was very hard for me to get the words out. It was just very emotional.”
In his retirement, Seiler plans to spend more time with his wife, who has been retired for more than three years, and have more flexibility to attend holidays and birthday parties he has missed while working 50- to 60-hour weeks.
He just bought a new fishing boat to take out on Lake Wisconsin and will use the extra time to go golfing. He also wants to attend the sports and activities of his five grandchildren.
However, Seiler will miss the socialization with customers and staff. Of the 400-500 customers served on a given Friday night, Seiler knows half of them.
“I don’t know how many names I have running through my head as far as regulars that come in,” he said. “Hopefully they’re going to let me come walking through the front door occasionally to have a beer or have dinner with my family and stuff like that.”
Couey is taking over at the young age of 25 but has been working at the supper club since he was 16 as a dishwasher and bust boy. He worked his way up to cooking, hosting and bartending, as well as doing bookwork and scheduling.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything different,” Couey said.
Couey approached White, who joined the staff in high school at age 17. White works in the kitchen where he has been ordering food for four years.
“As the years have gone along, he’s really helped out in the kitchen and maintaining the quality back there,” Seiler said.
The new owners are excited to continue the supper club’s tradition of success.
“To continue what Gary started is an honor, and if we can just continue to roll it out,” White said. “It’s a good place for good food and good people. A lot of lifelong friendships, lifelong partnerships have come through here.”
“For him to be able to step back and let us take a little bit of control, definitely shows that he cares for us and wants us to be successful,” Couey said.
Seiler has been working with the duo the past six months directing the kitchen, implementing systems at the front of the house, creating drink menus and deciphering menu prices for a smooth transition.
“If you can take over for somebody like Gary, it’s just unbelievable that we would even be considered good candidates to replace somebody that’s irreplaceable,” White said.