In keeping with the food theme of my recent posts – McQueen’s Drive In, Sherm’s and the Little Market – I decided to put together a brief history of the building that houses Aunt Judy’s Café at 816 West State Highway 23-73.
The building, built in 2010 following a fire, replaced a building built in 1961 by electrician Herbert W. “Herb” Wedell and converted into a restaurant in 1976.
Wedell was born and raised in Princeton. He graduated from Princeton High School, where he was elected vice president when the PHS Lettermen’s Club organized in 1935. After graduation he worked for the city before answering the call to arms when the U.S. entered World War II. He served in the Army and was stationed in New Guinea for much of the war.
After the war, Wedell did business as the Wedell Electric Company. He did all types of electrical work and specialized in motors and repairs.
Princeton Times-Republic, Nov. 21, 1946 – “Herb Wedell has taken over the electrical wiring business formerly conducted by the Volpel Electric Shop. He will … make his headquarters at the Volpel Electric Shop (536 West Water Street), which will take orders for him.”
Wedell moved his business to the former Gardner Green building at 617 West Water Street, moved here from St. Marie in the 1860s, in May 1951. Ten years later, he built a new house and a new shop for his business at 820 State Highway 23/73 on the eastern edge of the city limits.
Wedell began experiencing health issues in the 1970s and sold the business and truck to Norman Pulvermacher, assisted by his son Dennis, doing business as the Princeton Frozen Locker Service.
Wedell passed in August 1974. He was 56 years old.
The former electric shop was converted into a drive-in restaurant.
Princeton Times-Republic, Sept. 30, 1976 – “A new short-order drive-in was opened here Sept. 18. The Eateree Drive-Inn is operated by Joe and Mary Kolo and their two sons, Philip, 17, a senior at Princeton High School, and Steven 15, a freshman. The new business located on Highway 23-73 occupies the building which formerly housed the Wedell Electric office and workshop. Remodeling and redecorating, which began in June, have given the interior a bright and cheerful appearance. All new equipment, including refrigeration, stoves and dispensers have been installed and two washrooms which are convenient for the handicapped, have been added. … Before coming to Princeton, Mr. Kolo was employed by General Electric in Chicago, Ill. He is an electrician by trade and will continue to do electrical work here.”
The Kolo family sold the restaurant in 1978 to John and Diane Pier and Diane’s mother, Mary Emery. They added onto the building.
Princeton Times-Republic, August 23, 1979 – “An attractive dining room addition, which seats 28 people comfortably, has been completed in time for the first anniversary of the Eateree Drive-In on Highway 23-73 east of the city. … The family-type restaurant is a family venture owned jointly by John and Diane Pier and her mother, Mary Emery. They purchased the business Aug. 30, 1978. At that time the service was limited to carry-out with no inside seating available. … A 12-by 36-foot addition now allows for indoor dining. The rustic type setting is tastefully decorated in warm earth tones of gold and brown. Paneling covers the walls with a barn-board type on the bottom and a country scene at the top. The floor is covered with a covering in shades of brown. Wooden chairs and tables covered with gold tablecloths complement the décor. … The menu has been expanded to provide a varied choice of fast-service foods.”
New owners changed the restaurant’s name in 1991.
Princeton Times-Republic, Dec. 26, 1991 – “Let us welcome Mike and Mae Kohls to the restaurant business from West Bend. The Kohls family has been up in this area for about 25 years on and off at their cottage. They also have been eating at the Eateree for several years. Mike Kohls, 28, has been in the restaurant field for 12 years, and has recently taken a one-year program for food service at Moraine Park. Mike will be the person in charge of food service at the M&M Family Restaurant. A new look is underway at M&M Family Restaurant. The whole place is opened up, one wall was took out and a hole put in another. Counters are being put in with seating around them.”
The Kohls officially opened the restaurant on January 6, 1992, but didn’t hold its “Better Late Than Never Grand Opening” until December 7-10, 1992.
A new entryway was added to make the restaurant accessible to the handicapped before Chuck and Judy Grotzke purchased the business in 2003 and opened Aunt Judy’s Café.
A fire caused extensive damage in 2010.
Princeton Times-Republic, Feb. 10, 2010 – “The Princeton community is short one longtime dining establishment following a January 27 fire that delivered a staggering blow to Aunt Judy’s Café. The eatery at 818 State Road 23/73 sustained excessive damage to the roof and interior, according to Chief George Jachtuber of the Princeton Fire and Rescue Department. No injuries took place as a result of the incident. Jachtuber said firefighters responded to the blaze at approximately 3 p.m. last Wednesday, where they found flames that originated in the attic area of the structure. The café was closed for business at the time of the fire.”
The Grotzkes were not sure they would reopen the restaurant following the fire. The property was listed for sale for $289,900 through Green Lake Real Estate. It took some time, but the Grotzkes ultimately decided to rebuild.
Princeton Times-Republic, Aug. 19, 2010 – “Chuck and Judy Grotzke know how it feels to walk through fire and come out victorious on the other side. The Aunt Judy’s Café owners were devastated when a January blaze destroyed their popular Princeton eatery but brought their business out of the ashes and back into operation. These days, the brand-new building now housing Aunt Judy’s Café on the same site is not only back, but it’s also better than ever. Aunt Judy’s Café officially reopened on Wednesday, August 11. By Friday noon, Judy noted that the business had served a record 500 diners, with almost two hundred coming through the door on their first day.”
The new building included an expanded kitchen, cathedral ceiling, office space and more storage space.
After nearly a twenty-year run, the business is again for sale in 2022. An advertisement says the café is known for “large pancakes and best omelets in town!”
Ashley and Adam Hogan opened Irma’s Diner on the site in 2023.
If you have any corrections or additions, please let me know. Thank you for caring and reading about local history.