Zimmel retiring after 33 years running Shawano eatery

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Betty Zimmel, left, sits with her husband, Gale, in one of the booths of the Perkins Family Restaurant that they owned for many years. Zimmel is retiring after 33 years, and she is turning the manager duties over to Wendy Tepiew.

On a chilly Thursday, Betty Zimmel sits in a booth at the Perkins Family Restaurant she has managed for almost 33 years with a cup of hot coffee. Employees come up to her and talk about a variety of things, whether about the restaurant or about life.

Zimmel will say goodbye to the day-to-day duties of managing the Shawano restaurant on Sunday, handing the operational responsibilities to Wendy Tepiew.

Zimmel and her husband, Gale, owned the local Perkins for the first 25 years she was the general manager, but she stayed on even after selling the business seven years ago. At the time they decided to become part of the Perkins franchise in 1985, they were operating Zimmel’s Bakery in Clintonville.

“We originally built this restaurant,” Zimmel said. “We had a friend who was associated with Perkins. She talked with us and told us it would be a good deal for us.”

With that, Zimmel was off and running, an owner of a restaurant with a brand name that started in 1958 as a single pancake house in Ohio and has now expanded to 400 restaurants in 33 states and five Canadian provinces. Despite running a successful business in Clintonville, she and her staff had to work a little to attract Shawano residents to her new business.

“It took a long time to get people used to coming,” Zimmel said. “I certainly worked a lot.”

Zimmel said her management style was to work with her staff, laying out her expectations but helping out in the trenches. She noted that she has several employees who have been with her for most of the years of the restaurant, as well as others who have left and returned.

“It was just a matter of keeping track of any problems you might have, keeping things running and hiring people,” Zimmel said. “We have some good people.”

The local Perkins employs about 40 people, but the ranks swell to 50 during the summer months, according to Zimmel.

One Perkins program Zimmel is particularly proud of implementing is the free breakfast program for veterans. The local restaurant serves free breakfasts to veterans on Veterans Day, Independence Day and other patriotic holidays, and veterans who sign up are also entitled to a free breakfast on their birthday.

“The family and friends that come with them also get a 20 percent discount,” Zimmel said. “Anytime our veterans come in to eat, they get a 20 percent discount.”

The Shawano Perkins distributes about 75 postcards per month to veterans reminding them of the free breakfast. Zimmel’s father was a veteran of World War II.

“That’s one thing that has not only helped our business, but if you could see how appreciative our vets are,” Zimmel said. “A lot of them don’t have a lot, so it means a lot to them.”

Zimmel said she has enjoyed all the people she has met over the years, calling them “one big, happy family.” She applies the family term to her employees, as well.

“In Walmart, it takes you so long (to get through) because you meet so many people to talk,” Zimmel said. “It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye to everybody Sunday.”

With the responsibilities of a restaurant going away at age 73, Zimmel is looking forward to having much more time to read. She and her husband, who have been married 56 years, also hope to do a lot more traveling, something they couldn’t always do with having a business to run.

“I always liked being here on the weekends, for sure,” Zimmel said. “However, it’s going to be nice not to have to be on a schedule. Even when you would go home, you’d always have it on your mind about what’s going on at the restaurant and are things going OK. We’re well past retirement age.”