Tags: Featured Feature story, Geneva Lake West
December 31, 2012 | 01:07 PMWILLIAMS BAY — When two visionaries get together magical things can happen.
That was the case when Bill Gage and Patrick Hurd crossed paths.
Gage is the third generation of a family that is synonymous with the Lake Geneva area. Hurd is a restaurant creator who calls himself a "change agent."
The two of them re-connected after Gage visited Hurd's restaurants in Montana and Vermont.
They clicked and together they developed Pier 290 — a restaurant made up of pieces of Geneva Lake history, located at 1 Leichty Drive in Williams Bay.
When they first talked about Lake Geneva about a decade ago, Gage modestly told Hurd that he owned "a couple of boats."
That's an understatement as the Gage family and their predecessors have been in the boating business since the launching of the original Lady of the Lake in 1873.
The property upon which Pier 290 was built is part of a winter storage and service facility which originated in 1916. Of course, the most visible Gage business is its tour boat operation, Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which was purchased in 1958.
Gage and Hurd first started talking about the restaurant project nearly 10 years.
As Gage told NorthwestQuarterly.com: "We were aware of the lack of dining options right on the lake, and we want to make this a unique destination."
Gage's vision was also fueled by more symbolic reasons.
"I was taught by example by my family about the responsibility of stewardship and why caring for the history of our area and carrying on the traditions is worthwhile," he said.
Fulfilling a vision is right up Hurd's alley.
He runs a company called From Dirt to Dessert, so he knew how to develop a project like Pier 290. For Hurd, uniqueness comes naturally.
But when Hurd agreed to visit Geneva Lake two and a half years ago, his mission was to pull the plug on the idea.
"I came here to talk him out of it," Hurd said of the Pier 290 project. "But I changed gears after I looked at the boats and the lake."
Gage had the perfect location in Williams Bay. But that location offered a challenge as well as an opportunity. It housed the Gage Marine boat restoration, storage, boat sales and repair operation and did not include space for a restaurant. But that challenge was swept out of the way when Gage purchased Summerset Marine, which accommodated most of Gage Marine's storage needs.
Over many a conversation a vision arose.
The vision that developed was wrapped around the idea of putting the history of the lake area into the restaurant itself — literally.
Gage had a knack of finding valuable buildings just before they were being torn down. More than once Hurd and Gage turned their vehicle around when they saw a barn or a torn down building that they thought might net them some valuable material.
The restaurant's floor is from a guest house that was once part of the Wrigley estate.
The front doors are from the first mansion built on Geneva Lake.
The outdoor bar is made of pier cribbing that had been under Geneva Lake for 80 years.
A pilot house from the old Belle of the Lake now serves as a coffee bar.
The restaurant's pendant lights are made of salvaged brass propellers.
Bathroom sinks came from Northwestern Military Academy.
Butternut paneling came the Reader House at Lake Lawn Lodge.
The doors in the office area are from the old Frank Lloyd Wright designed Geneva Hotel and a staircase came from Maple Lawn.
When a storm knocked down several old Black Walnut trees in the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, Gage Marine made a donation to the conservancy and bought in a portable wood mill. The restaurant was the beneficiary.
"I love reusing things," said Hurd, who estimated 70 percent of the materials used in the renovation are "repurposed."
The arrangement of the Gage Marine buildings had to change to give Pier 290 its unobstructed lake view. All five buildings have undergone complete makeovers. Buildings were gutted and given exterior upgrades. A gift shop was created off the restaurant.
And Gage has taken a step toward fulfilling his father's dream of a maritime museum by starting out with a loft space in the boat center, something he calls a "museum incubator."
The last thing to be completed is the annex which includes the new boat showroom, clubhouse for marina customers and private dining room.
Besides creating the architecture of the restaurant, Hurd is also the creator of the menu that fulfills the goal of "upscale comfort food."
Pier 290, which had a soft opening last summer, has inside seating for around 70 people with outdoor dining for about 100. The chef is Nick Mehmke, who previously worked with Hurd at another property.
Of course, hikers along the lake path can also walk right up to Pier 290.
And, in a way, Hurd and Gage are explorers every bit as curious as the hikers who take on the lake path for the first time.
Only, for them, what they discovered — Pier 290 — is tangible.