Monona Bait & Ice Cream’s owner blends niceties with night crawlers
Shop owner Dean Schroeder is building his sweets and treats business one scoop at a time.
(page 1 of 2)
A typical summer day for Dean Schroeder begins with a walk with his 4-year-old Lab, Ruth. The owner of Monona Bait & Ice Cream lives in a home attached to his business, so when it’s time to head to work, he simply opens an adjoining door and steps into his workday. Ruth, meanwhile, keeps watch from her perch at the top of the steps. “Occasionally, Ruth is more important than the ice cream,” Schroeder admits.
Across Winnequah Road, a woman and several children play in Schluter Beach Park, and on this sunny morning, Lake Monona appears as smooth as the hot fudge and caramel warming inside Schroeder’s shop.
“Ice cream is kind of a happy thing. I get known either as Dean, The Bait Guy, or the Ice Cream Man.” — Dean Schroeder, owners, Monona Bait & Ice Cream
It’s nearly 10 a.m. when Schroeder switches on the “open” sign and pipes in an oldies radio station for ambiance. The day has begun.
He purchased the shop and its adjoining three-bedroom home 10 years ago after running Dean’s Downtown Deli on Mifflin Street for about 12 years. “I liked being downtown,” he said, “but it was time for a change.” (The deli has since morphed into the Ivory Room Piano Bar.)
“This building has been here forever,” he says of the 4516 Winnequah Road location, conveniently located on the bike path. For years, he had pedaled past the shop before one day noticing that business seemed to be waning. It wasn’t long before he learned that the property had been foreclosed on, and with the help of his parents, he purchased the home and business.
It was in fairly good shape, he said. Oak Bank, its temporary owner, handled much of the cleanup, with Schroeder adding some detail, but for the most part, very little changed.
Light streams into the knotty-pine sunroom decorated with a collection of old sports team pennants, small cuckoo clocks, old Coca-Cola signs, and framed awards.
Inside the main store, old-fashioned ice cream tables instantly remind one of days gone by. A Coca-Cola soda fountain and other nonworking fixtures remain for aesthetic reasons. Food is prepared on a butcher-block table, or grilled on a small electric griddle. A meat slicer sits idle in a corner, and a convection oven appears to be the most frequently used appliance.
The shop sells pizza, wraps, hot dogs, burgers, chicken, subs, and other made-to-order sandwiches such as turkey, ham, roast beef, and salami. Freshly popped popcorn is an afternoon treat. Schroeder, an accomplished, self-taught cook, prides himself on adding a new twist to standard fare.
A candy counter offers both old-fashioned and current favorites, and a cooler contains bottles of soda — including Fanta and Orange Crush — and even several gallons of milk. An ATM, a more modern amenity, is provided for customer convenience since the store does not accept credit cards.
The shop lures customers with a variety of food, fountain drinks, ice cream, fishing gear, and a nice view.
But at this time of year, ice cream is the primary draw. The 27 three-gallon tubs Schroeder purchased last week are nearly gone.
“I like to be my own distributor,” he says. On Thursdays, he heads to Sam’s or Woodman’s to stock up on ingredients, while Fridays are reserved for Babcock Dairy runs.
A man and woman ride up on their bikes. It’s 10:30 a.m. and they order two hot dog baskets before heading outside to sit and enjoy the view from one of the picnic tables. Schroeder heats the food in a convection oven.
In the back corner of the store, a separate refrigerator keeps bait fresh. Schroeder sells leeches, night crawlers, red worms, leaf worms, spikes, and wax worms. He does not sell minnows. A simple selection of basic fishing gear —hooks, bobbers, and other items — hangs on the wall.