If you’re a local social media user, chances are you’ve stumbled upon DJ Dave Kallaway’s mouthwatering food photos. The man knows how to show off meatloaf and mashed potatoes. But when the self-proclaimed foodie isn’t cooking, what’s his favorite dish downtown?
“I love Chef Tami’s lobster mac and cheese at Townies. And she just started doing lobster rolls — very tasty,” Kallaway said.
He’s a big fan of Wausau’s mushrooming culinary scene. “We OWN variety when it comes to food choices,” he said.
Diverse restaurants are a significant part of the city’s appeal, contributing to its social fabric and economic prosperity. Whether they’ve been in downtown Wausau since 1888, like The Mint Café, or they’re a newcomer to the urban landscape like CHAR Grillhouse, restaurants help define the city’s character by bringing people together and creating experiences.
“We have customers who’ve been coming in and getting the same Greek salad for more than 50 years,” said Julie Luedtke, catering director of The Mint Café. “There are some who love to come in and order a cloverleaf dinner roll like when they came here with their grandparents.”
In its 135 years, The Mint has seated countless patrons at their iconic green booths. “We’ve hosted numerous artists who have been in town for various events, from meals with Aretha Franklin and B.B. King to those who come back every time they’re in town like Lorie Line or Jim Belushi,” Luedtke said. Fun fact: Belushi wears a Mint Café hat in his “Growing Belushi” series on the Discovery Channel.
“We are honored and humbled to be a part of all of it, both the big-name artists and the loyal locals who join us for three meals a day,” added Luedtke.
Currently, Joe Pepowksi, owner of The Mint, is transitioning ownership to long-time employee Joe Schulz, who has been instrumental in the continued success and growth of the restaurant and catering services. But don’t expect many changes. “Joe Pepowski will continue to be involved in daily operations. We know our success is partly fueled by the consistency of our service and our menu items,” said Luedtke.
With their renowned chefs and familiar staff, restaurants create memorable ties to the community and keep customers coming back for more. And the must-have menu items are varied. For some, it’s oysters on the half shell at Ciao, fajitas at Jalapeno’s, Pad Thai at Lemongrass or craft brews at Red Eye.
In addition to offering a range of cuisine options, restaurants support tourism and contribute to the local economy by providing jobs and supporting other industries, such as agriculture and food production. Choosing to dine in downtown Wausau puts money right back into the hands of the community.
“In terms of impact, a study by Civic Economics found that local restaurants recirculate an average of 79% of their revenue locally,” said Blake Opal-Wahoske, executive director of Wausau River District. He added that downtown restaurant spending was $6,649,779 in 2022 among the 24 downtown restaurants.
A thriving restaurant culture requires many ingredients, including a supportive community that values dining out. “Wausau is all about relationships. It really is,” said Adam Pellett, food and beverage manager of CHAR Grillhouse in the Jefferson Street Inn. “Opening CHAR, we’ve been blessed with renewed acquaintances within Wausau and the business community.”
CHAR Grillhouse — focusing on fresh, local ingredients — opened in May in the former City Grill at Jefferson Street Inn. Pellett said he’s looking forward to being a part of Wausau’s unique foodscape and growing with the downtown district. “Wausau’s success story includes the creative and collaborative efforts of the downtown business owners. So much planning and care have taken place over the years and it shows,” he said.
To Pellett, the dining atmosphere emanates style and sophistication in an inviting atmosphere. “Bring friends, share real time together, relax. And come see us often,” he said.
Happenings Around Downtown Wausau
Wausau Woodchuck & Fireworks – Fridays June 30 & July 7
Have a fun night out at the ball game at Athletic Park, and then stay for the firework show. Gates open at 5:35 p.m. with the first pitch at 6:35 p.m.
Purchase tickets here or by calling 715-845-5055. See the game schedule.
Wausau Farmers Market – Saturday, July 1 and Wednesday, July 5
Visit River Drive in Wausau for fresh vegetables, fruit and more. Starts at 7 a.m. until sold out. For more information, visit Wausau Farmers Market
Concert on the Square – Wednesday, July 5 from 6-8 p.m.
Featuring rockin’ blues and soul artist Mama Ginger. Different food vendors are on-site each week. For a full summer schedule, visit Wausau Events.
Jazz on the River, featuring Sara Rifleman Trio – Sunday, July 9 from 5-7 p.m.
Join The River Valley Jazz Society for their kickoff concert at Kickbusch Plaza behind the Marathon Country Library. Bring your lawn chair and picnic basket. A food vendor will be on-site. See the full summer schedule here.
Concert on the Square – Wednesday, July 12 @ 6-8 p.m.
Featuring The Northern Lights, a band that draws influences from a variety of legendary artists. Different food vendors are on-site each week. For a full summer schedule, visit Wausau Events.
Downtown Parking – With the convenience of the Passport Parking app, finding a parking spot downtown has never been easier and the first two hours are free. Parking is also free in the evenings after 6 p.m. and on weekends.
Celebrate the 4th of July Week at These Events Around Wausau
Independence Day Festival & Car Show – Sunday, July 2 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Willow Spring Garden is hosting crafters, kids’ games, music, food and refreshments and fireworks. Located at 5480 Hillcrest Drive, Wausau. Visit willowspringsgardens.com.
The Wausau Water Walkers – Tuesday, July 4 @ 6:30 p.m.
Free show on Lake Wausau at 1800 South 3rd Avenue, Wausau. See a dazzling show for all ages. Shows are free, donations are welcome, bleacher seating is provided, and a full concession stand is available. Visit this website for more details.
Joint Community Fireworks Celebration – Tuesday, July 4 @ 9:30 p.m.
Wausau, Rothschild, Schofield, Weston and Rib Mountain are partnering for the largest fireworks show in central Wisconsin. The fireworks will go off from the Wausau Airport, but the public will have to watch from various locations outside the airport. Click here for more information.
Taste n Glow Balloon Rally – Thursday, July 7 through Sunday, July 9
Balloon glows and lifts/flights, Lumberjack Show, music, food vendors, car shows, kid-friendly activities and so much more. For schedules of events and activities visit tasteandglow.com.
Be Wausome and Enjoy Wausau!
Exciting changes are happening in downtown Wausau. Wausau Opportunity Zone (WOZ) invites the community to stay informed by signing up for regular emails at downtownrefresh.com, a site WOZ launched in 2021 to involve and engage everyone. WOZ is leading the charge toward a new era of prosperity by partnering with Greater Wausau Prosperity Partnership, local governments, businesses and organizations.