Wausau Pilot & Review
Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s featured business is one of Wausau’s most iconic and recognizable restaurants, steeped in rich history and tradition. Hiawatha Restaurant & Lounge, 713 Grant St., opened its doors nearly 50 years ago after Roger Jamgochain purchased the building. Roger ran the restaurant for decades leading up to his death in 2013, after which his sons Adam and Bill Jamgochian took the reins, with help from their sister, Stefanie. Bill agreed to take on Hiawatha by himself in 2019 to allow Adam to focus on his new downtown restaurant, Ciao. But now, things have changed. Adam is back at the helm at Hiawatha with a terrific new team including a business partner, Wausau native Andrew Wichmann, and general manager Taylor Owens. Robin Jamgochian, who is deeply involved with business operations, and Executive Chef Andrew Malak round out the core of the group that is newly focused on creating an exceptional experience for customers. “It’s all about the pursuit of perfection,” Wichmann said. “Ultimately, every customer should have the same quality experience here, and that’s what we’re searching for.”
Read on to learn more about Hiawatha and the team’s vision for the future.
Q: When was your business established, and what prompted you to start?
ADAM: In two years, it will be 50 years since my dad, Roger, bought the business. When Bill approached me about a year ago looking to explore new things, I knew we had to keep going and make it to that landmark. I agreed to buy him out under a condition that I could find a partner to buy the place with me. Andrew’s background is perfect for Hiawatha, and I wanted to be involved with someone I know and trust. I thought I could maybe twist his arm into coming back here, and I’m glad he did.
ANDREW: I grew up here, but I spent 22 years in Seattle. I worked as a fish monger, and in a butcher shop. I also managed and was part owner in a seafood stand. It was really 22 years of a whole culinary focus. I started to find a niche for myself as a chef who specializes in opening restaurants and fixing broken ones, too, by helping people find their business identity. Adam and I have been friends since we went to John Marshall Elementary School together and this is the first place I ever washed dishes, when I was 15 years old. For me it’s coming full circle in my career. Our first day of business together was March 17.
Q: How did you choose the name of your business? What are you trying to convey?
ADAM: Hiawatha has always been the name due to the Hiawatha train that ran from Chicago to the northwoods and stopped in Wausau. The train stopped at the depot, which is now Timekeeper Distillery. Here, there was a bar downstairs and a brothel upstairs. It’s been around a long time.
Q: For readers who have never been to Hiawatha, tell us about it. What do you offer?
ADAM: We have great food and a terrific staff. The outdoor patio is a great place to relax and have a drink, an appetizer, or dinner. There’s a fireplace inside and a fireplace on the patio as well. We have karaoke on Thursdays and live music whenever possible. Live music is a little tricky this year but we’re bringing that in whenever we can. We serve lunch and dinner. Our Sunday brunch, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is really a big deal. It was an idea my sister had and my dad was skeptical at first, but she was right, people love it. Over the years it’s gotten so popular.
ANDREW: Roger’s Bloody Mary Recipe is infamous, and we have that. We call it the “GodRodger,” and it’s an homage to Adam’s father, just so good. The fish fry is incredible, and we are still using Roger’s recipe.
Q: What makes your business unique? What sets you apart?
ADAM: The building itself is very unique and the service is fantastic. There’s a lot of diverse menu items, anything from nachos to ribs, with something for everyone. I feel like our staff sets us apart, too. We’re lucky to have people like Taylor working so hard to make this a success and make people feel comfortable when they walk through the door.
ANDREW: The location is unique, too. We’re in a residential nook that we’re calling The Railroad District. You can’t get much more unique than a 100-plus year old property rich with history.
Q: What do you love most about your job? What drew you to this work?
ADAM: I love the daily challenges. Producing a great meal for someone is the best feeling. I’m also just happy to be here meeting people from all walks of life. We get travelers from all over the world and people who come back every week who become like part of your family. That’s the part of the hospitality industry I love the most – hearing their stories, getting inspiration from whoever I talk to, it all helps as we work to make this place really thrive.
ANDREW: I enjoy the challenge of managing perishable goods. What I mean is, sourcing ingredients, working with local producers and farmers. The whole farm to table aspect of our business and the relationships we form, meeting new people every day of the week. I enjoy working with the community, seeing a need and filling it. That sense of connection.
Q: How have you changed and evolved over time? What’s different now from when you first started?
ADAM: It’s still Roger’s restaurant, but it’s not Roger’s restaurant. After my dad passed we experimented with a lot of new things. Maybe we tried to make it something that it wasn’t, by getting too fancy with the menu or moving too far away from the things that he did. Really, our goal right now is to go back to those roots, to bring back the business clientele, the neighborhood clientele, with attractive market prices on our drinks and food, with consistency. During COVID everyone had to make changes but we know customers need to know they can come here and get their favorite food. We are focused on that.
ANDREW: From an outside perspective I can say definitively that Roger is still here. We have recipes going back to before Adam and I were born, like the fish fry. Adam was the executive chef here for a time, so we have Adam’s classic dishes, Roger’s classic recipes, but with a new twist from our executive chef. We have a small, fresh menu with exciting specials that rotate frequently.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome? Basically, if you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently?
ADAM: The hardest part right now is staffing and supply chain management. Even getting product right now has its challenges. There are glass shortages, staffing shortages. The staffing issue is especially difficult in the service industry altogether right now.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
ADAM: A very near and dear passion project for us, once we get completely set, we plan to renovate the upstairs of the building and create a very old fashioned style cigar bar there with an open balcony and just a very fancy ornate ambiance. We’re also trying to focus on events and on partnerships, like one we have with our neighbors across the street.
ANDREW: We’ll be exploring private events, block parties, the kinds of things that can allow us to really focus on making this area its own little section of the railroad district. Right now, we are working well with our neighbor, Timekeeper Distillery, to create a community – a walk back into time. We’re doing some things with local craft breweries and we have a great bourbon lineup. We have a lot of future plans we’re excited about as we move forward. I just want to say a huge thanks to our current staff and our loyal patrons, and we’re looking forward to meeting new patrons, too.
Connect with Hiawatha, 713 Grant St., Wausau
Open for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday with kitchen hours til 10 p.m. On Sunday, brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner starts at 3 p.m. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Wausau Pilot & Review This week’s featured business is Ciao, an incredible downtown Wausau restaurant that features authentic Italian cuisine in an upscale, yet comfortable atmosphere. Owner Adam Jamgochian, who owned and operated Michael’s Supper Club before opening Ciao in the former Daly’s space, said his menu is inspired by old school recipes that were […]