NORTH LIBERTY– It was an opportunity that hit suddenly, led to a leap of faith, a flurry of activity, and culminated in four friends becoming business partners.
But that’s only the beginning.
When Rick and Marcia Frauenholtz, and Jeff and Mary Dostal purchased Bobbers Grill, and the Scales Pointe Campground, nobody could have foreseen the challenges and rewards to come. As long time campers, they were familiar with the place and many of its patrons. They had watched dishearteningly as its popularity declined.
“We’d talked about it for a few years,” Rick said, “because he (Jeff) camped down here and I live just up the road, that we’d like to someday have this place and run it.” Then, the opportunity came out of the blue. “It was like a fire drill to get it put together.”
“We found it out it was for sale the first of April,” Jeff added, “and we tried to put everything together in 30 days.” Jeff said camping season typically begins on May 1.
Mary Dostal said the men quit their jobs in late April, giving them only about two weeks to get the campground up and running for the new season.
Both men had been working at the same Cedar Rapids car dealership for over 30 years, and have been friends just as long.
“We’d been there so long, it wasn’t easy to just pull the plug and walk away.” But walk away they did, and walked headlong into chaos.
“It was truly a fire drill,” Rick said. “All the seasonals’ (campers) contracts start May 1. We’ve never run a bar or a restaurant or a campground before. We had to get food. We had to get wait staff. We had to get cooks.”
“We had no liquor license,” Jeff added.
“We had nothing,” said Rick.
Nothing but the support of Mary and Marcia, which was no small asset.
“I told them, just do it,” Marcia said. “I also told them, save the cardboard so we can build a castle and live in it under the bridge when we go broke.”
But she retold it with a smile.
“Truly, I had 100 percent confidence they could do it,” Marcia said.
The ladies, who kept their jobs, now help out on nights and weekends. “We get free labor out of two people every weekend,” Jeff said, laughing.
The bar opened on May 14, then Mother Nature decided to rain on the foursome’s parade. Literally.
“It rained and it was cold all the way through Memorial Day,” Jeff recalled. “So we just got done going through a really bust Memorial Day weekend with no boat traffic and campers pulling out early, and then we get the word from the Army Corps of Engineers a week later that the lake could possibly go over the spillway.”
In other words, they were told to plan on a flood.
“They told us we could have a foot-and-a-half to two-foot of water in the bar,” Rick said. “There goes the fire drill all over again.”
What happened next amazed the group, as an army of over 200 volunteers descended upon Bobbers, bringing heavy equipment, large cement blocks resembling Legos®, and other material.
“They had excavators here, backhoes here, big track-hoes… everybody said, ‘where did all of this come from?’ We have some of the best friends in the world,” Rick said. “We never would’ve got it done without them,” he added.
In three days, they constructed a floodwall, which went around the building.
“We sat down and talked about it one night and I said if we get through all of this, we’ll be golden,” Rick said. “This is a true test. Two guys starting a business, and are we going to make it here? In the first two months, everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
While the lake did rise, the anticipated flood did not occur. The weather still worked against the new entrepreneurs however with cold and windy weather continuing through June, and the lake closed due to the high water level.
“Our summer actually started the Fourth of July weekend,” Jeff said. “And it took off and it was fantastic until (season) close. You couldn’t ask for any better.”
They expressed gratitude for the more than 40 seasonal campers. “They support us greatly, and we have house-boaters and dock-rental people that really help support us too,” said Jeff.
After making it through a great first camping season, the business is now open on Thursday through Sunday for the winter months.
“We’re a destination spot. When the lake freezes, and the snow hits, this is snowmobile central. This is the main spot on the lake to stop.”
The kitchen is busy year ‘round, cranking out such popular items as homemade tenderloins and pizzas.
“All summer long we had compliments on our food,” said Rick. “We don’t buy cheap food, we could make more money by serving cheap food, but our burgers are all fresh, Midwest beef; our tenderloins, we cut them ourselves, bread them ourselves. Everything we’ve got back there is good food.” A Friday night prime rib dinner was added to the menu, along with homemade pizza. After multiple experiments, Rick said, “We’ve come up with one that wows people.”
Another obstacle that had to be overcome was winning back campers and boaters who had taken their business elsewhere. “We’re getting our business back,” said Jeff.
“Most of our business is all repeat,” Jeff said. “It’s a tight-knit family down here between the house boaters, and all the seasonal campers, then we had our weekenders (who occupy 33 weekend campsites), and we find it’s the same people renting them over and over again.” The new owners added campsites, more houseboat docks, increased the size of the docks and the campground and have plans for additional sites. “We’re running out of spots. We were packed every weekend. It’s a good problem to have,” Jeff said.
In addition to the friendly, family atmosphere, there’s also outstanding live entertainment that keeps bringing them back.
“We have live bands every Friday and Saturday night,” he added. “(In the summer), they come out here with their kids, the kids can run around the campground and play at the playground. Mom and Dad can come up here, have drinks, listen to the band; they all meet back at the campsite, no OWI. They’re all in a safe area, they all have a good time and go home on Sunday,” Jeff said. “We’ve really stepped-up the entertainment for 2014.”
Some of the more popular musical acts to frequent Bobbers include Two Buck Chuck (country and classic rock), Crazy Delicious (rock and country), Adam Beck, Zach Allan and Lonesome Road, to name a few.
“All these bands have a huge following,” Rick said. “They’re not cheap bands, but we learned with the cheap bands, nobody comes.” The bigger bands pack the place. “They keep them here, they’ve got everybody dancing out there.”
Bobbers also hosts a summer volleyball league, a late-season blues fest, bags tournaments, a cardboard boat regatta for kids, and karaoke on Friday nights.
Bobbers Grill is located at 1850 Scales Bend Rd. Phone 319-665-3474 or go to www.scalespointe.com , and look for them on Facebook.
Winter hours are: Thursday and Friday open at 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday open at noon. The kitchen closes at 8 p.m. while the bar stays open as long as business demands.
“We’re North Liberty’s best kept secret,” Jeff said. “Nowhere can you come find a view like this. It’s a 180-degree panoramic view. Nobody else has that.”