Restaurateurs: Nancy & Dana Reader
If you grew up or live in the Fox Valley area, chances are you have a fond memory of Good Company in Appleton — you dined there before high school dances, you had your first dinner date at the restaurant or you brought your family to Good Company to celebrate special occasions.
For Nancy and Dana Reader, along with their husbands John and Trevor, being part of those special moments is what makes restaurant ownership rewarding.
John Reader’s grandparents owned supper clubs in Milwaukee and Rhinelander. As a young couple, John and Nancy would visit them and dine at the restaurant.
“We loved watching the two of them working together, side by side, on a daily basis and we always knew that is what we wanted as well,” says Nancy.
Shortly after college graduation, John went to work for Baxter’s, a restaurant chain, which confirmed his love of the business. In 1981, property became available on College Avenue and the couple jumped in head first.
Good Company was the couple’s first venture into the self-employed, independent restaurant business. They began in a small building with 20 tables and a bar with seating for 10. Five years later, they moved to Good Company’s current location, on the corner of Richmond and College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The four-story restaurant has 100 tables and serves approximately 1,000 people on a typical Friday night.
“We never for a moment thought ‘this is a bad idea’ or ‘this will never work,’” adds Nancy.
The couple has been living their dream, working side by side, for 36 years. And, their son Trevor and his wife Dana soon shared this dream and joined them in restaurant ownership.
In 2002, Good Company had outgrown its space and the Readers put on an addition. At this time, Trevor joined his parents full time.
“When we were ready to expand, we knew we needed help. Trevor was a natural fit,” says Nancy.
The restaurant business runs in the Readers’ blood. Trevor left his job as a school principal and helped grow the business. John and Nancy’s daughter, Shauna, lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but is also in the restaurant business.
In 2007, the Readers opened Pullmans at Trolley Square. They established Waterfront Banquets and Nan Sorella’s wine bar in 2008 and Beefeaters British Grille & Ale House in 2009.
Dana had been a working member of the family for 21 years. She began working at Good Company while going to school. She eventually joined the family business full time.
“I married into the restaurant business and love it,” she adds. “I have learned so much from John, Nancy and Trevor and continue to learn more every day!”
Each restaurant has a different feel and atmosphere. Good Company is filled with antiques, nostalgic photos, posters and memorabilia. There are six different dining areas — the Library, Garden, Cabin, French Quarter, Bourbon Street and Balcony.
Pullmans is designed after a trolley or railroad factory, complete with a full-sized, completely refurbished trolley car in the lobby. Beefeaters is like a British pub, with heavy, dark wood and plenty of memorabilia. Dana explains one thing that makes their restaurants unique is they can accommodate large groups.
“Our restaurant locations are big enough to host parties between 20-80 guests. Many times, we get a call from a sports tournament team that will be bringing in a group of at least 40 within a few hours. We thrive on this type of challenge,” says Dana.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Dana reveals a typical day starts between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., depending on the day’s events. The family begins with office work. Next, they prepare the front of house and back of house along with the restaurant staff. After that, they work in multiple capacities.
Dana handles the marketing for the restaurants, managing Facebook, review sites, email clubs and Instagram for the banquet facility as well as any billboard, television and magazine advertising.
Nancy spends time with the team leaders, checking to see what is happening in the area that might affect business, advising on hiring and training of staff and poring over the financials.
“We spend an enormous amount of time further developing our menus — dining, cocktail and specialty menus. We work hard to update our menus with additions and deletions that meet our guests’ needs, but at the same time keep that balance that has kept us in business for 36 years,” adds Nancy.
On busy nights, she is at Good Company, providing the final check before food is brought to the table. She stands at what employees fondly refer to as “Nancy’s spot.”
“Our customers mean everything to us and we feel that it is extremely important to work in a capacity that directly affects the customer during the lunch and dinner shifts,” says Dana. “Our favorite is when we get to work in a position that allows us the pleasure of interacting with our guests.”
Most days, the Reader family heads home between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
REWARDS AND CHALLENGES OF RESTAURANT OWNERSHIP
While Nancy and Dana do get involved in community organizations as time allows, as a business they contribute to the community in a very
unique way — giving teens their first taste of the real world. “Over the years, we’ve employed hundreds of young people, [and for]
many of them this is their first job,” says Nancy. “It is so amazing to witness that first sense of independence and responsibility. We work hard
to teach them to have respect for their fellow team members and guests, and we in turn give them the respect they deserve for a job well done.”
Nancy explains the most rewarding parts of business ownership is the people — the guests and the employees. It’s especially satisfying when
a former employee reaches out to reminisce about time working together. Both ladies feel blessed to spend their day working with family. Saturdays are special because two of Trevor and Dana’s sons spend the day at Good Company.
“I get up every morning, looking forward to a new day,” adds Nancy. “I am so blessed I get to do a job I love with people that I love. One of the
greatest things about a family business is just that — family.”
When asked the challenges of restaurant ownership, I expected to hear the long days are hard, meeting customer demands are challenging or working with your family is tough, so I was surprised to hear it’s most difficult to hire help.
“The biggest challenge right now is finding people to work. It is an issue right now more than I’ve seen in the more than 35 years we’ve been
doing this,” says Nancy. She explains they aren’t seeing as many 17- and 18-year-olds looking for jobs and college students aren’t coming back, looking for work in the summer. Nancy explains keeping up with the times is also difficult. “You can’t change your menu every day and the trends change so quickly,” she adds.
The four Readers are busy running the restaurants and expect to focus on these well into the future. Nancy suggests she has no plans of retirement. “I know I am not ready to retire. I’m having way too much fun,” she adds.
When asked about the future, Dana says it’s unknown. “That is the fun part! I’m not sure what the next five to 10 years will bring, but I know it
will be an adventure,” concludes Dana. w