Diversity key to Ed & Sharon’s staying ahead of competitors
TOWN OF CORNING – Bill Dinges knew he wanted to be in the food industry since he was 10. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his parents Ed and Sharon Dinges.
The Dinges’ moved to the country setting between Hamburg and Merrill from Kenosha in 1984, when they bought the former Country Inn at the intersection of State Highways 64, 107 and Joe Snow Road. The couple’s sons Eddie, Garrett and Bill were ages 13, 12 and 10 at the time.
A move can be hard on a family, but 10-year-old Bill soaked up everything.
Now, 35 years later, Bill has not only grown and diversified Ed & Sharon’s Restaurant & Catering, located at N1294 State Highway 64 & 107, but he’s taken the business down new avenues while maintaining the strong history it was built upon.
The start of something special
It was quite a change for the Dinges family, who had never owned a restaurant or tavern previously when they took roots in rural Merrill. Ed worked in construction and had a snow plow business in Kenosha before a back injury led him to look for the change the food business provided.
“We had no experience at all,” Bill said of the restaurant business. “We would come up to Merrill to hunt during hunting season. My dad and one of his friend’s went to lunch one day at the bar and found out it was for sale. That was it. We moved and my parents ran the place.
“It wasn’t hard on us kids, we would go three-wheelering, go-carting all the time instead of once a year. It was hard on my mom, though. Moving away from friends and uprooting the family.”
In 1988, Ed made a move that changed the trajectory of the family business. He purchased the first broaster machine and the salesman said it would double chicken dinner sales in six months.
“It only took three,” Sharon said.
The restaurant became a hot-spot known for strong food and good service by good employees, Bill said.
It’s not just about broasted chicken despite that being the original draw to customers. Prime rib was added in 1997 and turned into an even bigger seller and “Ed & Sharon’s specialty.”
People would drive from far and wide – as much as three hours away according to Bill – to get the prime rib.
Following Ed’s passing in 2003, Bill stepped into the role his father had held with the business since the beginning. He officially took over operation of Ed & Sharon’s at the beginning of 2006.
Bill said he was looking at opening a to-go location for Ed & Sharon’s, kind of his own venture, when his dad’s unexpected passing nixed that. Bill was thrust into an ownership role.
Now, it’s the fish fry that fills the parking lot, especially around Lent season. Dinges said this year they even had standing room only on a few Fridays.
“The restaurant and fish fry is still the anchor for us,” Bill said. “But, we now have other ventures that are huge for us and customers really are clamoring and there is a high demand for it.”
Paying homage to past, committed to the future
Bill knows the history on which his father and mother established the business, but he is also venturing into new territory and diversifying the restaurant and catering business. In 2005, Bill opened the “Chicken Coop,” a 2,400-square-foot banquet hall adjacent to the restaurant.
Ed actually built the building in 1993, but Bill opened it to host wedding receptions and parties.
In 2012 Dinges added a food trailer to take to fairs and festivals and in 2004 added catering. He also serves fish fries out of the trailer, his family’s famous chicken, cheese curds and more. His children, Taylor, Emily and Billy work in the food trailer and his wife, Marianne works at fairs and festivals with their Hawaiian Delight shaved ice trailer.
But cheese curds are the show now for Dinges. The banquet hall is now home to a manufacturing spot for his cheese curds.
“You can’t stick all your eggs in one basket I learned,” Dinges said. “We have a diverse business that is growing and your customers kind of dictate where we go.”
In a state where cheese curds are hard to become known as “the best curd,” Dinges has made a significant footprint. He said he not only sells in Merrill but as far away as Sayner, Wis. and recently Minocqua.
Dinges said he sells to nearly every bar in Merrill and has over 70 wholesale accounts.
“If you’d have told me a decade ago I would be making cheese curds and selling them all over I’d have said ‘”You’re nuts.'”
Ed & Sharon’s is much more than curds or one food. Much more than one story. The food, the atmosphere, the history, the hard work, the quality service all adds up to a well-built business foundation. Dinges has added to that, assuring Ed & Sharon’s isn’t just a past quality restaurant. But one that has all the looks of living well-on into the future.
“We are always looking for ways to grow the business,” Bill Dinges said. “I am not sure what the future holds. I have already done a lot of things, I wouldn’t thought I’d have done. But, it’s about the customers. What they want, I want to deliver. We will keep looking for ways to provide great food and great service.”
Ed & Sharon’s hours are 4- 8:15 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Fridays; and noon to 6:15 p.m. on Sundays. For more information visit the Ed & Sharon’s website https://www.edandsharons.com/Home.html or call 715-536-3429.