Ponderosa rides into the sunset
JANESVILLE Al Teal is not looking forward to sharing the bad news with his two sons serving in the armed forces.
"Our two boys are going to have to get ‘Dear Ponderosa' letters, and they're not going to be happy about it," he said.
Teal was dining with his wife, Mel, on Wednesday afternoon at the Ponderosa Steakhouse on Milton Avenue, which will close its doors Monday after 39 years in Janesville.
"It's been a mainstay," Teal said.
He and his wife started taking both of their sons to the restaurant shortly after they were born.
Jay Buchert, manager of the Janesville location for nearly 24 years, said the company's lease with the owner of the property at 2020 Milton Ave. has expired. Another party has purchased the building and will open a privately run family restaurant at the site.
"It's business," Buchert said of the closing. "I personally hope that person runs a successful restaurant."
Employees learned of the closing Aug. 16. It surprised some, but others saw it coming, Buchert said.
"We aren't blind to the fact that lots of Ponderosa (locations) have left Wisconsin and Illinois," Buchert said. "The restaurant doesn't seem to be doing so well in colder climates."
The restaurant has a loyal clientele. Several customers dine there several times weekly, Buchert said.
"I like it here, and I wish they'd find another location," said Mary Kaplenk, who has been dining at the restaurant since 1986.
A group of about 12 men from Turning Point Church have been going to Ponderosa for lunch after a Bible study session for three years.
"It's the one place in town where we can come and eat and then have fellowship afterwards," said Dennis Balch of Edgerton. "Sometimes, we'll stay here for two or three hours."
Patti Grezka, a waitress at the restaurant for 18 years, said she knows the names of more than 500 of her customers. She was carrying a pen and notebook to take down contact information from her customers.
"She's our favorite waitress. We always ask for her (Patti)," said Joyce Goecks of Janesville, who was dining with her husband, Russ.
"Some people say you're not coming to the Ponderosa, you're coming to Patti's Ponderosa," Grezka said. "I love my job, and I've always said that."
A customer interjected and asked whether Patti was going to take a job at the new restaurant. Buchert said the owner of the new restaurant will offer jobs to any member of the Ponderosa staff that wants one.
"I'm going to see what the man has to say," Grezka said.