RANDOLPH — Herb Feil was a phenomenon.
The entrepreneur was bigger than life, and had a faithful following at the supper club he founded July 1, 1969, in the former Club 73. A workaholic, he had helped the previous owners by tending bar and filling in when needed in addition to his career buying steel at John Deere Horicon Works.
“He was gregarious,” said son Terry, who now operates Feil’s Supper Club at N8743 Highway 73, just south of Randolph. Herb’s obituary read, “He loved meeting people and the restaurant fed that passion. Standing behind the bar, he enjoyed telling a good story or relating tales from his latest adventure.”
Herb died March 5, and since that time Terry and his staff have been improving the club in their own way, adding to the restaurant’s offerings and welcoming family atmosphere, while at the same time maintaining Herb’s high standards and the club’s German ethnic character. (Feil’s was designed and decorated by the same person who designed and decorated The Pyramid on Highway 33 near Beaver Dam – now closed).
Terry grew up in the restaurant, having been 8 when his parents took ownership.
“All of us five kids worked in the business,” Terry said. “I started out sweeping floors and stocking coolers and cleaning bottle chutes and things like that. I think I got 50 cents a week. We didn’t really see dad a lot unless we came out here to work. In the early years of the business he was putting in 70 to 80 hours a week, easy. Mom was waitressing for a while until she decided to stay home with us kids, because there were five of us.”
Eventually family members took on more important roles, with son Jim running the kitchen, son Terry managing the catering business, the daughters waiting tables, Mom doing the books and Dad running the front of the house.
“Now I do all those jobs,” Terry said, while also quickly crediting head chef and assistant manager Joann Randall and other staff members for making it all possible.
And although Terry is soft spoken and doesn’t always attend the evening service, he is still the man in charge of a legacy that began more than 150 years ago.
“My family has been in the baking business since 1852 in Wangen, Germany,” said Terry. “My grandfather Karl came to the United States in the 1920s and he started a bakery in Randolph. Dad and his brother, Dick, worked there growing up, and Dad never lost that skill, bringing it to the restaurant when he opened it.”
Freshly baked bread was served at every table and some years ago it was a newsworthy event when the one millionth loaf was pulled from the oven.
Herb was there for the landmark event, although he stopped coming to the restaurant when Alzheimer’s Disease made it impossible for him to continue.
Terry has made his mark, continuing some things while improving and changing others.
“This isn’t Herby’s supper club anymore,” said Terry. “Nowadays we’re trying to attract different clientele than we did in the heydays of the 1970s and ‘80s. We still have loyal customers, but we have to add things to attract new clients as well.”
Examples include the 12 tap beers including craft, seasonal and German brews; a casual pub menu with 17 different sandwiches, wraps and burgers; a large range of appetizers including chicken wings; an outside beer garden with a 65-inch television; lunch; and a larger menu including more German and American specialties.
“We serve not only the traditional supper club fare, but something different for those people who want to sit and watch a game, have some chicken wings and enjoy a beer,” Terry said. “They’ll all find something to make them happy here.”
The German specialties are important to the restaurant, and Terry strives to cook everything as authentically as possible.
“We’ve had people from Germany who say it’s like the food they have in their homeland,” said Terry. “It’s hard to find that kind of thing anymore. We pickle our own beef for the sauerbraten, and it’s all top grade meat. We still make everything from scratch – including our white and our onion rye bread.”
Oktoberfest is celebrated with a German buffet and such favorites as roulade, cabbage rolls, sauerbraten, several kinds of schnitzel, kassler rippchen and a sampler of German sausages. German side dishes include spaetzle, sweet and sour red cabbage and other taste treats.
All this is in addition to American favorites such as steaks, seafood, salads, chicken, ribs and a large children’s menu.
At the moment there is no heir apparent to continue operating the club into the next generation.
“I’ve got two engineers and two psychologists in the family,” said Terry, adding. “They’re too smart to stay in the restaurant business.”
His stepdaughter will head to college soon – although she waitresses at the restaurant as well.
Still, Terry is optimistic about the future, and will continue to offer the best food and hospitality available anywhere.
“We’ve been here for 48 years and I hope to be here a lot longer,” he said.