Jess Pogatschnik brings out a steaming platter of food and sets it on the bar next to plates of bacon and cheese curds at Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center in Albany.
“They’re called tater barrels,” she said. “They look yummy. Did you try the cheese curds?”
The plates slide to Ryan Spanier, then Kris Schiffler and finally Lee Mergen. Each try a sample and then wait for the next batch of food to come out.
“We’re sampling food some of our reps brought in,” Schiffler said. “Sometimes you have to do that.”
Serving appetizing food, offering a friendly atmosphere and being open to change with the times are priorities for Mergen, Schiffler and Spanier. Owners of six bars — Shady’s Bar and Grill in New Munich, Shady’s Golden Eagle in Burtrum, Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center in Albany, Shady’s Long Shots in Cold Spring, Shady’s Railside Bar and Grill in Rice, and soon-to-be opened, Shady’s Silver Spur in St. Martin — the trio are updating their establishments inside and out, trying new foods and aiming to please.
“We like to see people happy,” Schiffler said. “We like to make everyone comfortable. It’s still small town around here.”
The trio began working in bars more than 20 years ago. While Mergen tended bar and Schiffler was a DJ, the two became good friends. In 2007 they bought their first bar, Shady’s Bar and Grill in New Munich. Spanier started working as a bartender for them around 2011 and eventually became part owner of all six bars.
About five years ago, Mergen and Schiffler bought their bar in Rice on auction. One of the other bidders was planning to turn it into a laundromat, Mergen said. The new owners remodeled it and added a kitchen.
“It’s a nice little gem,” Mergen said. “We have a great dinner crowd.”
In 2016, the trio bought Paul’s Paradise in Albany. The previous owner said they would never make it. They were determined to prove him wrong. With a large ballroom and multiple bars, this establishment was much bigger than the other two they owned. They named it Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center, because the trio is from the Albany area. After managing it successfully, they built the confidence to buy another bar.
They bought Shady’s Golden Eagle in Burtrum in 2017. The trio updated the building and made it more user-friendly for the bartenders and cooks. They brought back the establishment’s name that so many people knew so well.
“The Golden Eagle was named the Golden Eagle for 60 years,” Mergen said. “So many people said, ‘Thank you for bringing back that name.’ They were so happy, and we were happy and proud to do it, to bring back that nostalgia.”
In April of this year, the trio, along with Adam Studniski, opened Shady’s Long Shots in Cold Spring. This bar and grill is located at the Rich-Spring Golf Club on the shore of Schneider Lake.
Their newest bar, Shady’s Silver Spur in St. Martin, which they own along with Jeremy Glenz, will open in early August after remodeling. Like the Golden Eagle, they kept the name.
“We went back to that name ‘Silver Spur’ because it was a good name,” Mergen said. “There’s a lot of hometown pride in St. Martin for that bar and we think we can bring that back.”
In addition to the bar and grills, Shady’s staff also cooks for the golf course in Albany and run the bar and cater the food for weddings and events at the Pioneer Days grounds in Albany.
All Shady’s bars offer menus with appetizers, burgers, pizza, wraps and sandwiches. Some of the bars have buffets and other food specials. The owners hope to be known for serving good food, which they view as one of the major draws to bars today.
“It’s a very tough time in the bar industry,” Schiffler said. “The crowd and the generation has changed over the last 12 years. Now it’s someone who wants to have a few beers and a good meal.”
Their customers also include those present for Saturday afternoon events, but evening entertainment can still be a draw. In addition to food, the bar and grills continue to offer drink specials and evening entertainment. Shady’s Golden Eagle and Shady’s Long Shots provide live music on weekends. Shady’s Hometown will also offer music on occasion. Shady’s Bar and Grill in New Munich has DJs, and buses are available to pick people up and bring them home Saturday evenings.
All Shady’s bars offer catering. They also have spaces for parties, business events, fundraisers and school events. Their largest venue is Shady’s Hometown Tavern and Event Center, which can host up to 550 people.
Each Shady’s bar has its own manager and a number of employees, totaling to around 110 between the six bar and grills. These people are essential for success, the owners say.
“It’s all about your staff,” Schiffler said. “You have to have staff who are friendly and you have to have good cooks. You need to trust them and they need to trust you.”
Mergen, Schiffler and Spanier all have “day jobs,” so they rely on their employees for day-to-day operations and helping them avoid burnout. Spanier owns Grandview Painting of Avon and Mergen is his estimator. Schiffler owns Schiffler Insurance Agency in Albany.
The owners answer phone calls, check in at the bars, ensure everything is “well-oiled,” take notice of where improvements are needed and socialize — a hallmark of the small-town bar.
“We like small towns,” Mergen said. “It’s who we are. We feel we connect with the small towns.”
Mergen, Schiffler and Spanier say their bar and grills can build community, especially in small towns with limited places for people to gather.
“It’s still the local watering hole,” Schiffler said.
In supporting the small towns, the bars donate to local groups and host fundraisers. Their charitable gambling helps many causes. They also build community through dart teams, pool teams, bingo, banquets and gatherings.
For more information, check out their website at shadysbg.com.
As an incentive to visit all of the locations, Shady’s is offering “Shady’s LA Golden Road Experience.” Get a punch card stamped each location and turn it in for a chance to win a trip for two to Los Angeles. The trip includes flight, hotel, VIP brewery tour and tickets to a Dodgers game. The drawing will be at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17 at Shady’s Bar and Grill in New Munich.