For over 110 years, Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub kept it in the family – and beat the odds. How rare is this achievement? According to Family Business, rarely do more than 30 percent of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, let alone making it to the fourth-generation mark as Schuler’s has done.
The secret to their success? Schuler’s attributes its longevity to the foresight of its founder and the succeeding family members who used their entrepreneurial skills to build a tradition of hospitality and fine dining to last more than a century.
This historical buffet provides a peek at the character of the people and the events that have brought the restaurant to this noteworthy time.
The restaurant’s founder, Albert Schuler, was a native of Rome, New York. The adopted son of a traveling butcher, Albert migrated to Marshall in the early 1900s. The owner of a local lunch counter and cigar shop befriended him, and after learning the trade Albert opened a similar business on Main Street in 1909.
In 1920, he purchased a hotel with a small dining room on Main Street and named it The Albert. It was during this period that Albert became deputy sheriff. It wasn’t unusual for Albert to be summoned at the restaurant to attend to matters of the law. He would take off his apron and was out the door. Minutes or hours later, his apron was back on and it was business as usual.
In 1924, he was ready to expand his business. He sold the hotel on Main Street and purchased the Royal Hotel and Restaurant in Marshall and changed the name to Schuler’s. He built a seven-lane bowling alley and soon the combination hotel/restaurant/bowling business became a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors.
Win Schuler, Albert’s son, joined the family business in 1934. In 1936, Win, a former high school history teacher and coach, became full owner of the restaurant while his father continued to run the hotel and serve as sheriff of Calhoun County.
Win is credited with expanding the family business into a highly successful string of restaurants across Michigan. His magnetic personality and salesmanship were his trademarks. He believed that personal service set his business apart.
Win’s personal service included remembering every customer’s name. He worked hard at this art and is legendary in his ability to remember names. After an introduction, he worked names into any subsequent conversation three times. He even wrote the names down and before he went to sleep at night he would go over the new names of the day.
The murals on the walls throughout Schuler’s and the sayings etched into the beams in the main dining room are the result of Win’s insatiable interest in history. Both have become part of the charm that continues to draw customers from hundreds of miles around to dine here.
In addition to acquiring other restaurants, in the late 1930s Win and his brother, Albert, bought a golf course in Marshall. They named it Alwyn Downs. Back then, they charged 50 cents to play a round of golf. They eventually sold the course.
During World War II, injured military men and women who were sent to Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek heard about Schuler’s. It became standard practice for the patients to come to the restaurant at some point during their recovery. Some of the more famous patients included Gene Autry and Bob Dole.
Big Ten coaches and teams have been attracted to Schuler’s too. For decades, during the fall football season, Marshall has been referred to as the “Crossroads of the Big Ten.” Duffy Daughtery, Biggie Munn, Bump and Pete Elliott, Ara Parshegian, Bo Schembechler, Don Carhau, George Perles and Mark Dantonio are just a few of the Big Ten coaches who have frequented the restaurant.
In 1959, Win’s son, Hans Schuler became the third generation to join the family business. He grew up in the business and always knew this was what he wanted to do. Under his guidance at one time the family of restaurants grew to nine. And in the Marshall restaurant he was responsible for major expansions and significant renovations. He also proved to have an unusual ability to develop the people working on his team. He has been instrumental in making the transition of the well-established and successful business to his longtime confidant, Sue Damron, the latest steward of the Schuler family legacy.
In 2012 a lifetime of leadership and exceptional performance by Hans Schuler was recognized as he received the inaugural “National Restaurateur of the Year” award from Independent Restaurateur. “This award represents the highest level of excellence in all aspects of the business and recognizes an exemplary commitment to owning and operating a successful independent restaurant,” says Jim Young, publisher of Independent Restaurateur.
Like his father, Hans enjoys greeting customers at the restaurant. He continues to be a civic leader in the Calhoun community, and on any given night you may well see him and his wife Nancy dining in the Pub or the Centennial Room.
Representing the fourth generation, Larry Schuler remains active in the restaurant industry, currently serving as an executive in a Florida restaurant group, 23 Restaurants, LLC. He provides a valuable family perspective by serving on Schuler’s Restaurant Advisory Board.
Very few families in the nation have been in the restaurant business as long as the Schuler family, marking 110 years in 2019. And even with a challenging economy and changing marketplace, the iconic restaurant continues to thrive while evolving with the times by delivering great food and hospitality the “Schuler Way.”
In the fall of 2019, Sue Damron – who has spent more than 20 years working her way up the management team – became the owner of the company, now serving as President and CEO of the legendary restaurant. Starting as Hans Schuler’s Executive Assistant in 1998, Sue worked her way up the management chain, culminating in being named President and Managing Partner and acquiring a minority ownership share in 2014.
Much like the Schulers, the Damrons are a family affair. Sue’s husband, Shannon, has been a constant support, and her children, Josh and Elizabeth, have both had jobs at the restaurant. Elizabeth currently serves on the Schuler’s management team and has chosen the industry for her career.
“We have the benefit of generations of experience behind us that will continue to guide us toward the future as one of Michigan’s longest-established restaurants,” says Sue. “The Schuler’s brand remains dedicated to providing an unparalleled experience. We are excited about this new chapter in our classic history and plan to be welcoming guests to Schuler’s for a long time to come.”
So, from one family to another, the “Schuler Way” remains the focus.
“I felt it was time to complete handing over the reins of our successful business to someone who has consistently shown herself to be a capable and innovative leader in our industry and in our community,” says Hans. “In 2014, we announced Sue’s new role as President and Managing Partner with the observation that we were ‘introducing the future’ of the restaurant. I’m pleased to say that we are now able to complete that transition, handing over a successful, established business to a proven partner and someone who will be an excellent steward of our family’s legacy.”
For more information we invite you to explore our website, give us a call (269)781-0600 and most importantly, visit us soon!