Denver’s new Union Station Boasts Beautiful Bars

Editor’s note: Entrepreneur magazine contracted with me in the summer of 2015 to write this story, paid me in full for it and never ran it. The editor has left the publication, so I guess it’s in limbo.

By Rob Reuteman
Some of the best bars are dives, holes in the wall propelled to prominence by a mix of drinks, clientele, ambience or a distinct lack thereof.
Others benefit enormously from the advantage of being in the middle of a great place.
Such is the case for the Terminal Bar and Cooper’s Lounge, two new establishments literally on top of each other in Denver’s Union Station, which reopened last year after a three-year, $54 million renovation.
The 130-year-old landmark has been lovingly restored to its former glory as a modern transportation hub for the Denver metro area’s light rail and bus service, as well as Amtrak.
“The redevelopment of Union Station is one of the most ambitious transit projects in the world, said then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall at the project’s grand opening last summer.
“From Colorado’s earliest days through today, Union Station has played a vital role in connecting our people, businesses and economy to the broader world.”
A Public Centerpiece
The clear centerpiece is Great Hall, 12,000 square feet of public space that served as a waiting area for the 80 trains that once ran through Denver daily. It’s been transformed into a massive lounge served by the Terminal Bar.
Stylish couch arrangements with marble coffee tables populate the hall, as do picnic tables holding family gatherings and business meetings alongside long black-lacquered library tables filled with people working on laptops. A small performance stage sits in the middle of the hall, alongside a sawdust-covered shuffleboard table.
Many of the assembled are nursing beers or drinks; the liquor license for Union Station allows patrons to take their libations anywhere in the building.
Walk up to the old ticket counter facing the hall and order from a rotating menu of 30 Colorado microbrews. Telluride Brewery’s “Face Down” brown ale shares tap space with 4 Noses Brewing’s Cocoa Coffee Porter and Crazy Mountain Brewery’s Lawyers, Guns & Money barley wine.
“We treat Great Hall like a space that belongs to the public, not a bar or restaurant,” said Joe Vostrejs, a principal with the Larimer Associates, which owns and operates Union Station’s bars. “We wanted the ability to go up to a window and order whenever you feel like it, without being badgered by a waitress or bartender.”
The hall plays host to family gatherings, first dates and numerous business meetings daily, he added. “You can sit here for two or three hours and not order anything, and no one would care or probably even notice.”
Larimer Associates is a partner in the Union Station Alliance, a group of local businesses that took out a 99-year lease on the building from its owner, the Regional Transportation District. RTD operates the city’s bus and light rail systems.
Twenty years ago, Vostrejs was hired as general manager of Larimer Square, a downtown block of century-old buildings that became a showcase for the city’s extensive historic preservation efforts.
“Ten years ago, I became a partner, and we began doing projects in other neighborhoods,” he said. “I’m a Denver native and all our partners live here, so we’re only interested in doing things that make a neighborhood better. We take old, decrepit buildings, improve them and make them relevant again.”
Other developers are content with doing shopping centers that have Subways and Starbucks, he added. “Those are fine. I suppose the world needs them. But that’s not what we do.”

‘Premier people-watching’
Great Hall may give people a reason to gather, but the Terminal Bar gives them another reason to linger, he said.
If you’re not in the mood for the bustle, step inside the Terminal and grab a stool or a seat in one of the dozen cushioned booths. If the weather’s conducive, enjoy a drink on the outside patio facing busy Wynkoop Street.
“The patio’s become the premier people-watching spot in town,” said Jon-Mark Larter, director of hospitality for Union Station.
The bar and patio serve more serious libations as well as the beer. A Corpse Reviver #1 blends Asbach Uralt German brandy, Coulard calvados, Cocchi di Torrino sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. The craft cocktails complement expertly mixed old-fashioneds, kir royals or vespers.
“The Terminal Bar is the lubricant that makes it all work,” Vostrejs said. “Otherwise Great Hall becomes a more sterile space.”
Vostrejs researched train stations extensively before embarking on the Union Station project. He wanted it to evoke the late 1890s.
“It was a vibrant time,” he said. “Before then, nearly everyone died within 30 miles of where they were born. The railroad opened us up. We could buy a ticket and cross the country. The train station was the passage to all that, and it’s that era we wanted to capture.”
Evoking a golden era
His research introduced him to the other golden era of train travel, “the 1920s and ‘30s when waiters wore white coats and ties while serving elegant food and cocktails.”
And that’s where Cooper’s Lounge comes in. Step up a long stairwell off one corner of Great Hall, and traverse the stunning balcony that overlooks it, and you come to The Cooper Lounge.
The two bars represent opposite ends of the world, Vostrejs said. “The Terminal Bar supports the public area as an everyday bar. Up here, the Cooper is meant to be a retreat for serious conversation.”
A long marble bar rests opposite the balcony overlooking Great Hall and its 65-foot-high ceiling. Low couches and high-back upholstered chairs hold a capacity of 100. The views are stupendous. To the east, through two 25-foot-high leaded glass windows, you can look down Denver’s busy 17th Street financial district. To the west, through five such windows, the setting sun turns the room pink, pastel or orange for 10 minutes at a time.
The Cooper also serves the 112-room boutique Crawford Hotel, with some of its rooms modeled after luxury Pullman train cars.
The Cooper specializes in high-end cocktails. A simple order for a gin and tonic produces a silver tray with a highball glass of ice rimmed with a lime. Mini-carafes – one of gin, one of tonic – allow a patron to customize.
Too much work? Bartender Tony Meza’s favorite concoction is a Coloradier, Cooper’s take on the standard boulevardier, with local Breckenridge bourbon and bitter, blended with sweet vermouth and an orange twist.
Cocktails are accompanied by silver cups of nuts or chocolates. Food service is provided by a cart, just as it would on a luxury train car. Wagyu steak tartare is a favorite. Dessert? The cart attendee will blowtorch a bananas foster at your table.
“It’s a grand, opulent experience,” said Larter. “It’s become a premier date bar at night.”
By day, businessmen broker deals.
Vostrejs said he holds more meetings at the Cooper than in his own nearby office. “You’re comfortably seated in an environment quiet enough for conversation, with a service level that’s incredibly high,” he said. “Whenever I suggest it, I get an enthusiastic response.”
Revenue from The Terminal and The Cooper has doubled from initial projections, Vostrejs said. “People here have an emotional attachment to this building. The public enthusiasm has been amazing.”
Early next year, train service will commence between Union Station and Denver International Airport. The 23-mile ride is projected by 2030 to carry nearly 40,000 people daily to and from Union Station.
Currently, about 32,000 bus and light rail passengers go through Union Station, said RTD spokewoman Pauletta Tonilas. “Obviously, this will grow significantly next year.”
Vostrejs says he’s ready.
“Too much of historic preservation involves taking a place and putting it in amber,” he said. “What we wanted to do is put Union Station back into service in a way that is relevant today, and will be for 99 years.”

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5 Tips for Managing Millennials

MARCH 21, 2015

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur.

By Rob Reuteman

Millennials aren’t all that different from the generations before them, but knowing a bit more about their motivations and needs in the workplace can help your entire company succeed. Here’s some advice:

Emphasize training and personal development.

Surveys show that Millennial workers rate training and development as an employee benefit three times higher than they rate cash bonuses. “Put your training program on steroids if you want to retain this group. It’s money that is worthwhile to invest,” says Amy Lynch of Nashville-based consulting firm Generational Edge.

However, this should not necessarily mean laying out every facet of a Millennial employee’s role. Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work,advises against “over-specifying.” “These are people who have gone through school not necessarily reading a textbook from start to finish, but getting a snippet of information from here and there on the internet,” she says. “Give them a challenge and let them figure it out.”

Encourage collaboration and transparency.

“The new-era employee assumes they can and should contribute to conversation and decisions that affect where they work,” says Lisa Orrell of San Francisco Bay Area-based consultancy The Orrell Group and author of Millennials Incorporated. Meetings should be open, collaborative sessions in which everyone is encouraged to share ideas.

A good leader will know how to incorporate that input and channel it. “Switch from top-down to side-to-side management,” Lynch says.
“Focus on: ‘Here’s what we have to get done, let’s figure out how to get there.’”

Reconsider the schedule.

Many leaders are restructuring the workweek to accommodate young people’s stamina and give them more time to recharge. “Be more flexible and try four 10-hour days to give employees a three-day weekend. You’ll make your business a workplace of choice for Millennials,” Lynch says.

Focus on mentorship.

“Millennials have grown up with a lot of guidance from their parents, society and teachers. They truly value and seek hand-holding at work,” Orrell says. “I’ve spoken with many Millennials who have quit jobs quickly because they were promised mentorship but never received it.”

You may also try reciprocal mentoring, such as pairing a smart, tech-savvy Millennial with a senior exec. “Have the exec learn social media while the Millennial learns leadership and management skills,” suggests Jeanne Meister, founding partner of New York-based consultancy Future Workplace and co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.

Commit to social causes.

Leaders who prioritize volunteering and a connection to social causes are finding success in attracting and retaining Gen Yers, many of whom stress their desire to work for a business that has a positive impact on society. Successful leaders of young people are incorporating such activities and values into their business models and communicating them in com-pelling ways. Suggests Lynch: “Talk about the ways you are connected to the community, the ways you make the world a better place.”

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How Millennials Want to be Managed

MARCH 1, 2015

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur.

By Rob Reuteman

Lisa Orrell is a hot property. The author of Millennials Incorporated is one of a handful of trainers and consultants who advise companies on leading the newest generation of workers.

“I’ve had more calls for seminars for managing Millennials in the last two years than the previous five or six,” says Orrell, whose clients include Cisco, eBay, Johnson & Johnson and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Also known as Generation Y, the 80 million Americans born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s began entering the work force nearly 15 years ago. But now they’re taking it over, with experts saying they’ll comprise nearly half of U.S. employees by 2020. And leading them successfully is an altogether different proposition than leading previous generations.

Today’s successful leader has a built-in awareness of the similarities and differences between generations, and how the various age groups prefer to be engaged. This is especially true when it comes to attracting, getting the most out of and retaining the outspoken Millennial group.

Dan Epstein is CEO of ReSource Pro, a New York City-based company that provides outsourcing services for the insurance industry. He says his staff is roughly 90 percent Millennials.

“I do see a culture clash between some managers and young employees,” he says. “With top-down management—‘Just do what I say’—there’s gonna be that clash.”

Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work and an executive fellow at the London Business School, co-directs a leadership program for senior executives. “I’d say 90 percent of the Gen X managers I work with are exasperated by Millennials,’’ she says. “They say, ‘I had to wait my turn; you need to wait yours. I had to follow rules. So do you. You’re asking for something quite different than what I had to go through.’”

Those feelings are “very human, very normal,” she says, “but I tell them, ‘It’s not going to do you any good to feel that way. There’s no upside for you. If you want to keep them, then motivate them and make their work more meaningful and challenging than Boomers made it for you. That’s water over the dam.’”

As a leader, Epstein attempts to satisfy the newer generation’s desire to be creative, to have important, interesting roles and to have a say in their company’s activities. “We’ve taken a hard look at our work process, to give people a better sense of where they fit in and how they’ll feel more engaged,” he says.

To that end, he conducts annual employee engagement surveys that have led to significant changes at ReSource Pro. For example, in recent years he implemented budgets for employees to do social activities together. “They get to choose how they spend it,” he says. “Some decide to go on trips together. We want to create a culture where employees feel their values are respected.”

He also adjusted his company’s compensation program to accommodate Millennials who want to move up the corporate ladder quickly. “They want forward progression,” he points out of his young work force. “Rather than infrequent promotions with large increases, we do more frequent with less increase. It lets people feel they’re moving forward.”

Indeed, more than previous generations, Millennials are living for that immediate satisfaction. “The biggest, most important difference between Millennial workers and their Boomer or Gen X managers is that they really focus on characteristics of what they are doing in the moment,” Erickson says.

Why? Their formative years were heavily influenced by terrorism and school violence, “inexplicable things that can happen to anyone anytime,” Erickson says. “That’s why, in the workplace, they’re constantly asking, ‘Is what you’re asking me to do today meaningful and important and challenging?’” The best leaders of Millennials “think of their role as similar to a teacher preparing lesson plans,” she adds. “What are we going to accomplish this week, and what will the team learn? They integrate a learning component with an executional component.”

Millennials, in fact, have grown up in a more inclusive, participatory environment than previous generations. Successful leaders will be those who evolve toward evaluating task completion rather than the individual.

“A lot of their schooling was designed around teamwork,” Erickson says. “They do a lot of their social activities in groups; they’re very comfortable with that.”

That can lead to conflicts in the workplace, where traditional corporate cultures have been set up for individual evaluation. Explains Erickson: “We’re hung up on assessing individual raw performance. We lose focus on the fact that collaboration may get the task done better and smarter than if done by individuals.”

Then there’s the issue of feedback on those tasks. Employee surveys by both Harvard Business Review and PricewaterhouseCoopers have found that Millennial employees want a constant stream of review and recognition.

“I was brought up in an environment of ‘no news is good news,’” Erickson points out about the generational difference. “Feedback meant I was going to be judged in some way, usually negatively.” But for Millennials, “feedback is getting a tip. It’s coaching, and they want it multiple times a day.”

That’s right—annual reviews, long a staple of corporate culture, don’t cut it anymore. Gen Yers want to know how they’re doing much more often—and the best leaders are finding ways to give it to them, through social media updates, peer evaluations or extensive mentorship programs.

“The biggest complaint from Millennials about managers that I hear is, ‘My boss cancels my one-on-ones all the time,’” Orrell says. “They conclude, ‘Oh well, he doesn’t value my time.’ And the No. 1 reason Millennials leave companies is that they don’t feel valued or respected.”

Retention of Millennial employees has indeed proved problematic for companies whose older managers have failed to evolve beyond traditional corporate leadership strategies. Orrell and her firm spend most of their time counseling executives on how to help such managers work with their Millennial charges. “They tell me, ‘There tends to be dissension and frustration on the part of our managers. How can we reduce the amount of friction in the workplace? How can we get everyone on the same page?’”

Orrell is blunt. “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers,” she says. “They’re not mad at the building. They’re mad at who they work with on a day-to-day basis. We may have tolerated it for five to 10 years. [Millennials] will tolerate it for five to 10 months.

“Most people think the problem would be a 52-year-old who can’t relate to a 24-year-old employee, but that’s not typical,” she adds. “The biggest friction is with the 35-year-old Gen X middle manager who resents the whiney Millennial who needs hand-holding.”

This is leading to significant changes at many companies, where savvy leaders are shaking up the long-stagnant management level. “Smart companies are getting really serious about this, stepping up their game with management, finally willing to go through the hassle of firing mediocre managers,” Orrell says. “Because if someone doesn’t like their boss, they’re gonna leave. The other stuff doesn’t matter.”

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Dixie Elixirs Wants to Become the First National Marijuana Brand

By Rob Reuteman

From the June 2014 issue of Entrepreneur
100 Brilliant Companies/Marijuana

A glossy full-page ad in a recent issue of Culture, a “cannabis lifestyle magazine,” reads: “Our munchies give you the munchies.” The advertiser is Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, Tripp Keber’s 4-year-old startup that manufactures more than 100 cannabis-infused products for Colorado’s adult retail marijuana market.

Targeted to users who are worried about the health effects of smoking, Dixie uses an array of “innovative delivery systems” for THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) that range from its flagship carbonated beverages to mints, fudge bars, capsules, chocolate truffles and oil cartridges for vaporizer pens. Dixie Dew Drops? Squeeze a bit under the tongue for “sublingual THC delivery in six refreshing flavors.” In addition to edibles, the company makes massage oils, lotions and bath soaks for transdermal delivery.

For trailblazers like Keber, the years since Colorado began allowing the sale of medical marijuana and the months since its recreational legalization have been “like the wild, wild west,” he says. “In addition to building innovative delivery systems, we’re building a brand. When the market evolves, and it’s possible to grow beyond state lines, that’s when I put on my intellectual-property hat and align myself with the best of the breed.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, represents some 500 companies working in the legal marijuana business in 27 states. “What we hear from dispensaries is that retail sales of edibles are surging,” he says. “As the biggest infused-product company in Colorado, Dixie is very well-positioned for the future, as the industry matures.”

Chris Walsh, editor of the digital newsletter Marijuana Business Daily, adds, “We have yet to see a truly national marijuana brand materialize because of the many legal hurdles involved. Dixie is trying to become one of the first. Given its expansion strategy, there’s a good chance it will eventually be a household name in multiple cannabis states.”

Based on data from the Colorado Governor’s Office, statewide marijuana sales are expected to exceed $725 million over the next 13 months. Dixie products are sold in an estimated 90 percent of the state’s dispensaries.

“Dixie has been around a long time,” says Cameron Mitchell, a “budtender” at the Medicinal Oasis dispensary in Denver. “It’s made a name for itself in terms of the consistency of its consumable products.” Mitchell estimates that 20 percent of his customers buy weed to smoke; another 20 percent buy only edibles; and about 60 percent buy both.

For eventual expansion, Keber hopes to license the Dixie brand, recipes and methods for sale to companies in other states. He expects Dixie products to be sold in a handful of states by the end of the year. “Right now, the marijuana must be cultivated and consumed in the state it’s licensed,” he says. “No interstate transport is allowed. I believe that will change. But in the meantime, there is no law against exporting the brand.”

He’s not the only one who thinks things will change–and quickly. In April, one U.S. congressman predicted that the prohibition on pot will be lifted entirely by the end of the decade. Until then, Dixie has a “very well-thought-out structure to avoid breaking state or federal laws,” Keber says. “But this has never been done before. There is no Marijuana Business for Dummies book.”

More Marijuana Brilliance
Medbox provides automated cannabis vending systems and consulting services to the medical marijuana industry

Helios Bars
The ArcView Group investor network is devoted solely to funding ancillary marijuana businesses. More than 170 accredited investors have put up at least $50,000 and predict a 64 percent growth in legal cannabis markets this year.

Rodawg provides handsome tin joint containers to consumers and premium packaging similar to that of fine spirits to dispensaries (as opposed to herbs in plastic baggies).

MJ Freeway
MJ Freeway helps growers, processors and retailers track every gram and stay in compliance with ever-changing regulations with its POS, inventory-tracking, cultivation-management and patient-management software systems.

The Yelp-like medical cannabis database Leafly encompasses some 65,000 reviews of marijuana strains, spanning type, effects and more, along with 40,000 dispensary reviews.

The comparison-shopping site Wikileaf enables users of medical marijuana to locate nearby dispensaries in six U.S. states and identify the best deals, complete with Wikipedia-like entries on strain properties and usage recommendations.

BioTrackTHC is a business-software platform with tools to track cannabis from seed to sale.

Apeks Supercritical
Apeks Supercritical manufactures botanical oil-extraction machines for producing cannabis extracts used in making edible marijuana products.

Terra Tech
Terra Tech specializes in hydroponic plant cultivation, selling equipment for greenhouses. The company’s stock trades on the OTC market.

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9 Ways to Become a Better Leader

9 Ways to Become a Better Leader/ Entrepreneur magazine

9 Ways to Become a Better Leader

Image credit: Shutterstock



Encourage employees to disagree with you. 
Companies get into trouble when everyone is afraid to speak truth to power. “If all you hear is how great you’re doing, that should be a danger sign,” says executive coach Ray Williams.

Don’t micromanage. 
Empower the people below you, then leave them alone. “A good part of leadership is stepping back,” says Bill Pasmore, senior vice president at the Center for Creative Leadership. “A good leader leads from front and back.”


When people err, don’t destroy them.
But make sure they learn whatever lessons there are to be learned from their mistakes.

Show compassion. 
“Develop strong interpersonal relationships at work, so employees have some meaning attached to the work they are doing,” Williams says.

Vow to be constantly learning and curious.
Pasmore advises taking risks and asking yourself, “What is it that I don’t know that I should know? How do I learn it and test it out in situations that are not necessarily safe?”

Know yourself. 
“Just like you can’t start a weight-loss program without getting on a scale, you must begin your journey by learning the truth about yourself,” says executive coach Tasha Eurich. “We’re often the worst evaluators of our behavior.” Adds Pasmore, “One of the biggest problems I see is a real lack of self-awareness. Executives often aren’t aware of who they are as people and the impact they have on others.”

Be laser-focused. 
Stick to one goal at a time. “Leaders often choose too many development goals. Give yourself the greatest chance for victory by developing one thing at a time,” Eurich says. “It is far better to make progress in one area than to make little or none in five.”

Get rid of poor managers. 
“Of the 60 top executives at Continental, I probably replaced 40 who were not team players,” says retired airline CEO Gordon Bethune. “Don’t tolerate factionalism, backstabbing or prima donnas. Everyone wins, or no one wins.”

Practice leadership skills daily.
“The amount of deliberate practice you choose will be proportionate to your improvement,” Eurich says. “It’s like learning a violin concerto. You have to learn the concepts, then you practice every day to create beautiful music.”

Rob Reuteman teaches business journalism at Colorado State University. he was a longtime editor and columnist at Rocky Mountain News.

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How Much Money Is a Good Leader Really Worth?

Entrepreneur magazine March 2014 issue: How Much Money Is a Good Leader Really Worth?

How Much Money Is a Good Leader Really Worth?

Image credit:

Morale booster: Gordon Bethune masterminded the dramatic turnaround of Continental Airlines.

Gordon Bethune had inherited a mess. When he took the job of CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, he was making the decision to commandeer a company that was losing nearly $55 million per month. The fifth-largest U.S. airline had way too many planes flying unprofitable routes. Its on-time performance consistently ranked last among the top 10 airlines, costing an average of $6 million per month in added expenses for misconnected bags, hotels, overtime and lost revenue due to canceled flights. Continental also ranked dead last in service, customer complaints and mishandled baggage. It was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy for the third time in 10 years.

By most accounts, Bethune engineered one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in history, largely by unlocking the value of Continental’s 45,000 employees, whose input had been shunned by what he referred to as “cloistered management.”


“Poor operations were and are the result of poor morale in work force and management,” Bethune says. “I had to get people focused on the single goal of getting the airline functioning on time. I had to get employees to believe what I said.

“After two bankruptcies, it was like dealing with abused children–they simply don’t believe you,” he adds. “To them, I was just another guy in an Italian suit.”

Bethune’s predecessor, Robert R. Ferguson III, reportedly had been forced out after three and a half years at the helm. Bloomberg Businessweek articles around that time referred to him as a “blunt and often prickly” CEO, who “seemed aloof to the rank and file and was known to publicly humiliate managers.”

Bethune was pretty much the opposite. A onetime Navy aircraft maintenance officer, he had come up through the ranks of the industry and enjoyed constant interaction with Continental employees. “You can’t treat your employees like serfs,” he says. “You have to value them. I know if I piss off a mechanic, he’s gonna take twice as long to fix something. That’s Human Nature 101. If employees are hostile, they’ll go out of their way to screw you.”

Gordon Belhune

Gordon Belhune
Photo courtesy of Gordon Belhune

He started offering bonus money to every Continental employee for each month the airline showed on-time performance in the top five of the 10 airlines measured by the Department of Transportation. He also began a profit-sharing plan–once there were profits to be shared.

By 1995, Continental ranked first in on-time performance among major airlines. Posting its first profit in 10 years, the company earned record income for 11 straight quarters, upping its share price from $3.25 to more than $50. High rankings in customer and employee satisfaction followed.

“I started giving everyone extra money, and made their lives better,” Bethune recalls. “We could afford it because we’d been paying even more money for disaffected employees.

“We got the managers, the customers and the employees in the same boat–everyone wins, or no one does,” he adds. “It’s like football. Before each play, there’s a huddle. Who do they let in the huddle? Everybody on the team, not just the big shots in the backfield. Because everybody needs to know the plan, and that’s how we operated the company.”

Bethune retired in 2004, but his style and substance have made him a legend in the airline industry. They also make him a poster boy for the notion that good leadership has a demonstrable effect on a company’s bottom line.

Leadership Quantified

Can it be proved that good leadership increases profit? Over more than 30 years, Gallup has conducted research involving more than 17 million employees on the degree to which they are emotionally committed to their company’s goals. Among the findings:

  • “Engaged” employees are more productive, more profitable and more customer-focused.
  • “Actively disengaged” employees erode an organization’s bottom line, to the tune of more than $300 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
  • Companies that actively engage employees in their operations have 3.9 times the EPS growth rate, compared with organizations in the same industry with lower engagement.

“I’ve done plenty of research on the different ways organizations are run, and how you engage people in contributing to their success,” says Bill Pasmore, senior vice president at the Center for Creative Leadership. “I’ve found that leaders who make choices to operate in a more participatory way–who operate on principles of high engagement, vs. bureaucracies that treat people as if they were cogs in a machine–see a 30 percent improvement in performance.”

In their 2009 report “How Extraordinary Leaders Double Profits,” Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman and Scott K. Edinger cite a study they conducted for a Fortune 500 commercial bank. After a lengthy assessment, they divided the bank’s leaders into the best 10 percent and the worst 10 percent, finding that:

  • More than 50 percent of employees who thought about quitting reported to leaders in the bottom 10 percent. Slightly more than 15 percent who thought about quitting reported to the top 10 percent.
  • The worst leaders’ departments experienced average annual net losses of $1.2 million, while those of the best leaders netted profit of nearly $4.5 million.
  • About 37 percent of employees led by the bottom 10 percent said they were satisfied with their pay. Nearly 60 percent who said they were satisfied with their pay were led by the top 10 percent.

The happier employees weren’t necessarily being paid more by leaders in the top 10 percent, Zenger, Folkman and Edinger write: “They are in reality often living proof of the old saying, ‘You can’t pay me enough to work for that person.'”

Good leadership has an undeniable business value, confirms Tasha Eurich, a psychologist, Fortune 500 executive coach and author of the 2013 book Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom-Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both.

“Good leaders create prosperity, and it’s not defined just by money, but by the emotional health of their employees. Good leaders treat employees as humans and appreciate them by creating an environment people want to be in,” Eurich says. “Good leadership creates happy employees, who create happy customers and, ultimately, happy shareholders.”

Flying high: Gordon Bethune took over Continental Airlines in 1994; the following year the airline ranked first in on-time performance and posted its first profit in 10 years.

Flying high: Gordon Bethune took over Continental Airlines in 1994; the following year the airline ranked first in on-time performance and posted its first profit in 10 years.
Photo courtesy of Gordon Belhune

The Right (and wrong) Style

What style of leadership is best for engagement? Robert Hogan, a psychologist and global authority on leadership and organizational effectiveness, surveyed more than 1,000 employees about the personalities of their best and worst bosses. He found that manager personality is a valuable predictor of employee engagement. Managers who tended to be calm, business-focused, organized and willing to listen were three times as likely to have highly engaged work groups, compared to managers described as manipulative, arrogant, distractible and overly attention-seeking.

“Arrogant bosses tend to blame their mistakes on others, overestimate their competence and lack a sense of team loyalty,” Hogan writes in his study. “Manipulative managers often ignore commitments, bend the rules and disregard others’ concerns. These tendencies undermine manager-employee trust and can damage engagement.”

In Bankable Leadership, Eurich outlines two archetypes, one at each end of the spectrum, both equally ineffective.

First, there’s the “cool parent,” who focuses on the team’s happiness at all costs. “They don’t set expectations, give honest feedback or make tough decisions,” she says. “It might feel pleasant at first, but as soon as you need tough-but-true feedback, he or she would freeze like a deer in headlights.”

Then there’s the “trail of dead bodies” type of boss. “This leader requires grueling hours, is never satisfied and withholds recognition,” Eurich says. Leaders of this type may help you “up your game” initially, she explains, but in the long term, they drive results so aggressively that you suffer both physically from overwork and mentally from lack of appreciation.

The “bankable” leader is able to move to the middle, Eurich contends, understanding and caring for team members while setting aggressive performance targets. “Think of the best manager you’ve ever had,” she says. “He or she might have been a walking contradiction. They provide recognition and push for continuous achievement. They help you succeed and accept responsibility for your successes and failures.”

But beware of any one-size-fits-all approach, says Barbara Kellerman, a lecturer in public leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The solutions for effective leadership at a 20-person plumbing-supply company will be wildly different than those for a multibillion-dollar tech company. Kellerman, who has written more than 15 books on leadership, also throws cold water on the notion that any corporate knight in shining armor is likely to save the day. “The longer I’m in the field–the ‘leadership industry’ I call it–the less I’m persuaded to talk about a leader as some saintly, amazing person,” she says. “It’s perfectly idiotic.”

Executive coach Ray Williams, a columnist for Psychology Today, contends that our image of a good business leader has become dysfunctional. He even goes so far as to say there’s an increase in psychopaths in the business leadership class.

“If you take away the violent tendencies that are the most disturbing hallmark of the psychopath, I find many of the other symptoms in the boardroom today,” he says. “The extreme narcissism, the charm, the aggressiveness, the lack of conscience. These are seen as valued traits in a leader today.”

The need to be in the limelight, for celebrity status, to take credit for the work of others, to blame others when things go wrong–these personality traits are typical of psychopaths, Williams adds. “When companies recruit leaders, they tend to value highly people who are ruthless, who can make tough decisions–that sometimes can be hurtful to thousands of people–and not lose any sleep over it.”

Pasmore takes a similar stance. “Poor leaders develop a culture of arrogance and protection. They think they can do no wrong, and they hire yes men who think the way they do. They believe they were hired because they had all the answers,” he says. “That belief causes most of the problems we see in organizational performance.”

New Metrics

Williams thinks one executive hiring trend may trump the bad behavior so evident in the corner office–the slow, steady emergence of women in the executive suite.

“You rarely find a psycho who’s a female,” he points out. “The more we balance the scale and have feminine leaders, the better off we’ll be.”

Female decision-makers, Williams says, “tend to be more collaborators and peacemakers. I think in modern times we need more leaders like that, instead of the win/lose, cutthroat approach of annihilating the competition. I don’t think the world of business has been well-served by that model.”

He cites consulting group Catalyst’s groundbreaking 2004 report “The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity.” It concluded that businesses with the most gender diversity at the top had, on average, 35 percent better return on equity and 34 percent better total return to shareholders than those with the least gender diversity at the top.

Clearly, those in leadership positions at public companies face enormous, often insurmountable pressure to show quarterly improvement. Yet some leadership experts bemoan what Williams calls “short term-ism,” and all the important factors it ignores.

Harvard’s Kellerman believes business leaders should be judged by measures other than market performance. “Is the company socially aware? Does it pollute? Is it riddled with greed? Does it take care of its employees? Is it charitable-minded?” Kellerman asks. “It’s reasonable to invoke those measures when evaluating leaders.”

Indeed, there’s a much bigger definition of good leadership that we discount. “Snap judgments are getting shorter all the time,” Williams contends. “There was a time when companies could have long-range plans.”

It should be fair to ask of a leader what kind of impact his or her company has on the welfare of the community, Williams adds: “Great financial results need not be at odds with making a significant contribution to the community and the environment.”

Rob Reuteman teaches business journalism at Colorado State University. he was a longtime editor and columnist at Rocky Mountain News.

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Tripping Up North

September, 2013 Issue

Fri, September 06, 2013
Travel for Boomers.
From the best travel writing team in the business.

By Rob Reuteman

Bratwurst and walleye. Walleye and bratwurst. The prospect of gorging on two of my favorite comfort foods lingered long after my sister had called, inviting me and my wife to spend a July week in northern Wisconsin. We’d stay at an old lodge our parents had taken us as kids on vacation decades earlier.
A trip Up North, as it’s known, is primarily about the forests of the North Woods and the vast multitude of lakes in between. It’s also about the sky and clouds mirrored on the lakes. It’s about the never-ending symphony of birdsongs, and the serenity all these surroundings offer the vacationer.
And, like the rest of Wisconsin, it’s about eating and drinking. Or drinking and eating.
The state slogan of Wisconsin’s neighboring state Minnesota may be “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but Wisconsin has many more, about 5,000 more to be precise. State rivalries are usually waged with fun, and I can recall seeing a T-shirt years ago with the slogan:
“Minnesota –
Land of 10,000 Lakes
35 million mosquitoes
and 10 fish.”
But I digress.
Bound for Vilas County

We were headed to an area between Boulder Junction and Presque Isle, about 20 minutes south of the border with Upper Michigan. It’s in Vilas County, which boasts 1,300 lakes, roughly one for each 21 residents. It has more than 240,000 aces of public land, crisscrossed by 75 rivers and streams, great asphalt roads, 50 hiking trails and a growing inventory of paved bike paths ( The dozen towns – we hit them all on this trip – are lined with funky gift shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars. But for my money, the best bars and restaurants, known thereabouts as supper clubs, are the ones that are out of town, often set deep back in the woods.
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, but moved to Colorado after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison more than 40 years ago. I relish my return trips, and am blessed with a wife who feels the same way, though I was the first to take her there.
We couldn’t wait.
The last week of July, we flew into Milwaukee, rented a peppy Ford Focus and stayed the night at the historic Knickerbocker on the Lake (Michigan). We set out mid-morning for the five-hour drive.
There are dozens of ways to drive Up North from Milwaukee, ranging from the quicker highway routes to the meandering county roads and small towns. We took a quick route up and a meandering one back.
U.S. 41 leads northwest out of Milwaukee, past the Fox River Valley cities of Fon du Lac and Oshkosh. At Oshkosh, we took a smaller east-west state highway 10 to Stevens Point, and connected with U.S. 51, which runs north to Vilas County.
Spectrum of Green

Any July drive through Wisconsin is a study in green. Wikipedia will tell you there are 68 shades of green, and I believe all were in evidence. The first that strikes you is the absolutely neon green that occurs soon after some seeds meet fertile soil. Vast stretches of it intersperse with the middle green of the shoulder-high fields of corn and darker-yet fields of soybeans and pastureland.
Eventually, as you head north, the farmland yields to the forest green of the dense woods filled with leafy pines, sugar maple, basswood, hemlock and birch.
It was a cloudy day in the best sense. It didn’t rain, but the cloud cover is so low it just hangs above you, its cardboard color refracted with shafts of sunlight. The relatively straight, flat roads allow you to spend more time reflecting on the landscape.
We stopped for a late lunch at the venerable Hilltop Pub and Grill ( outside Stevens Point, at the junction of highways 10 and 51. I decided to bypass their terrific pan-fried walleye for a bratwurst with raw onions, my third sausage in 20 hours. I knew that plenty of walleye lay ahead. As did more sausage. I washed it down with the excellent Mudpuppy Porter brewed by Central Waters ( in Amherst, not far south. My wife went with a superb chicken dumpling soup, brimming with carrots and celery.
Stevens Point is roughly halfway to our destination, and we headed north on U.S. 51, bypassing Wausau before stopping for supplies at the huge Trig’s grocery store just north of Minocqua, in Vilas County.
Minocqua probably boasts the most vacationers, many from Illinois, Wisconsin’s neighbor to the south. Chicagoans have long favored Wisconsin for vacations, and Wisconsinites have long derided them for “ruining” the state, much as Coloradans mutter about Texans for the same reason. As I said earlier, state rivalries are alive and well in these parts.
For example, I have a childhood friend who practices criminal law in Kenosha, Wisc., about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. As such, he has come to know a number of state troopers, one of whom let him in on some little-known cop jargon. When a trooper sees a speeding car with Illinois plates going north along I-94, with a boat in tow, he’ll radio: “Fishtab travelling at a high rate of speed north from Mile 67,” or something like that. Fishtab? It’s short for $#@&ing Illinois @#it Head Towing A Boat.
Lynx Lake Lodge

We drove the last half hour to Boulder Junction through deep woods, beginning to spot the many glistening lakes through the trees. About nine miles northwest of Boulder Junction, we came to Zastrow’s Lynx Lake Lodge(, where my sister and niece had arrived a day earlier. It’s a collection of older cottages along the shore, with a central bar/restaurant/general store open Wednesday through Saturday. My sister and I deduced that we had last stayed at Zastrow’s with my parents in about 1991. Both died in 2006, but it was easier to conjure up memories because the place hadn’t been noticeably improved since then.
I clearly recalled watching a fairly raunchy Chris Rock special in the cottage living room one afternoon, and my mom remarking she had never seen me laugh that hard. Zastrow’s resembles more of a fishing or hunting camp than the vacation resorts most of us are used to. Nonetheless, it seemed full, with a number of families vacationing. It had all the basics, for about $800 a week. My sister, in a fit of nostalgia, rented the same cottage our parents had stayed in. Stove, refrigerator, heat, three small bedrooms, a family room with a dining table, sofa, comfortable chair and flat-screen TV (the one improvement I noted).

The bathroom was an homage to linoleum, with at least four patterns evident. The shower was old but functioning, thanks to a network of welded copper pipes overhead, connecting it to the water heater and sink. Our bedroom was big enough for the bed and a small dresser, little else. We had to stow some of our bags in the hallway.
We quickly concluded we’d never stay there again, and indeed, there is lodging of all types in the area, ranging from funky (like ours) to more modern and expensive. If interested, check out a few sites like or
Zastrow’s features a spit of sandy beach along the northern shore of the 339-acre Lynx Lake. There are beach chairs and a pier, canoes and a paddleboat for the taking, and a pontoon to dive from, about 15 feet off the pier. All very pleasant, if a bit spare.
Yes, there were mosquitoes, but a few periodic sprays of repellant on one’s limbs warded them off pretty well.
As you would expect, Zastrow’s website shouts its praises of its surroundings: “Zastrow’s Lynx Lake Lodge and Resort…boasts some of the best walleye, bass and panfish angling in the Midwest. Add in the spectacular scenery and you have the perfect fishing destination.”
I wasn’t there to fish this time around, just to relax. But we saw very few fishermen as we canoed around the lake, and my experience fishing catch-and-release in these waters has been largely disappointing. I’ve fished nearby Fish Trap Lake and High Lake several times with little success. If you’re going to fish, I’d suggest paying for a half-day with a guide early in your stay.
No matter, we weren’t there to fish, and I’m far from an expert anyway.
We were there mostly to kick back and visit, and in part, to eat and drink.
Ruminations on the Supper Club

Since we arrived around suppertime, we unpacked and drove to a classic nearby supper club, the Headwaters ( What exactly is a supper club anyway? It’s a little hard to pin down. Generally, they are indigenous to Wisconsin, and northern Illinois ( They’re at least 50 years old, sprawling restaurants with no divider between them and the equally sprawling bar. Born in the 1930s and 1940s, a number of them evolved from their previous incarnations as prohibition roadhouses. More on that later.
They specialize in fish and steak, prime rib and Friday-night fish fries. Diners are usually presented with a huge relish tray that always includes a lot of radishes and green onions.
In 2011, David McAnnich, an editor for Saveur magazine, wrote in the New York Times: “I fell in love with these restaurants long before I’d ordered my first cocktail, and for good reason: the food was always tasty — supper clubs were doing custom-cut dry-aged steaks long before the practice became an urban fetish — and the vibe was always pure Wisconsin gemütlichkeit, leavened by a lively mix of locals and vacationing families.”
Author/filmmaker Ron Faiola just came out with a coffee-table version of his 2011 documentary, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience, which played on PBS stations nationwide. In April this year, he told Chicago’s, “A lot of them are out in the middle of nowhere — they’re in a place that you would never, ever stumble on them unless they were your destination. Good service, big portions — that’s the draw. You have a drink at the bar, you have dinner, you finish off with a drink like a grasshopper — that’s your evening.”
We rolled into Headwaters during prime dinner hour, happy to hear there’d be a wait for a table, so we could sit at the bar a bit. The place was packed with happy vacationers and chatty locals
In supper clubs, drinking is usually brandy-based. Wisconsinites, due to its German or European immigrant heritage, drink more brandy than anyplace else in this country. This past April, Margie Healy, spokeswoman for Korbel Brandy in California, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the Badger State accounts for more than one-third of its total sales. “Wisconsin has always been number one for us,” she said.
My sister and niece ordered the de rigeur Brandy Old Fashioned – several ounces of brandy, a teaspoon of sugar, a dash of bitters and an orange twist garnish. They would order many over the next few days. I ordered a Brandy Manhattan. If you want the usual bourbon Manhattan in Wisconsin, you have to specify; brandy is the default liquor.
Dinner and No Dessert
Once seated for dinner, I ordered my first of many walleye this trip, lightly breaded and pan-fried. That’s how it usually is prepared.
Walleye isn’t widely known outside the Upper Midwest, where it’s regarded as the best-tasting freshwater fish ( A good filet usually runs about 10 inches long, and its meat is white, delicate and slightly sweet. It’s native to Canada and the Upper Midwest. It has proven difficult to “farm,” so its availability is limited. Much of the restaurant walleye, even in Wisconsin, is shipped from Canada.
Over the next four days, I sampled it at several supper clubs: Bent’s Camp, founded in 1896 and featuring its original birchbark wallpaper; Guides’ Inn in Boulder Junction, where it was topped with an excellent Jamaican jerk sauce; and the Little Bohemia Lodge in nearby Manitowish Waters. For lunch one day at the Boulder Beer Bar in Boulder Junction, I had Walleye Fingers, a terrific basket of fried chunks. I’ve only been disappointed in walleye once or twice, because it came baked. If you see it on a menu, breaded and pan-seared, order it.
My wife was pleased with a great strip steak; my sister and niece equally happy with monster cuts of prime rib. We all saved room for dessert at the bar, another Wisconsin specialty known as the Brandy Alexander – a goodly dose of brandy and one of crème de cacao, blended with vanilla ice cream.
As I returned from the restroom and approached the bar, I could see my sister’s face was a bit crestfallen.
“They don’t make Alexanders,” she said. “The bartender said they serve 300 dinners a night and if people lingered at their tables over them, the restaurant wouldn’t turn over enough tables.”
No matter, I said, there’s a big place up the road.
Turns out Gooch’s didn’t serve them either.
“No blended drinks,” a crabby bartender shouted when we piled into his place and asked.
We returned to Zastrow’s a little perplexed. A day later, at Bent’s Camp for dinner, we slurped out first Brandy Alexanders, letting the cold fermented ice cream settle our meals.
Loony Days

We spent the next four days in repose, indisposed to adventure. Mornings we took our folding camp chairs down to the beach, or out onto the pier, and read our books. The grand symphony of birdcalls kept us coming back. Mother ducks swam by, their ducklings in tow, diving for tadpoles.
We swam and canoed, and mostly had the lake to ourselves, save for a few kayakers and fishermen. And of course, the loons.
The common lake loon, as this species is known, breed and raise their young in Canada, Wisconsin and other northern states. Its haunting songs are as moving as they are startling. Listen here to examples of their four calls – the wail, yodel, tremolo and hoot:

This past February, environmentalist Glenda C. Booth wrote in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine (, “The haunting, melancholy call of the common loon has long enchanted those who love to be near the water. The call can be a wobbly, liquid chortle or an eerie yodel, sounding almost unearthly, especially when it ripples through the quiet wilderness or echoes across a tranquil lake.”
The loon looks a little like a duck or goose, but has a black-and-white checkered back, red eyes and a white collar around its neck. Weighing up to 12 pounds, its legs are set far back, making it difficult to walk. They may “run” on the surface of the water for up to a quarter mile before taking flight. But they are excellent divers, reaching depths of 200 feet for as long as three minutes in search of fish.
They are solitary creatures, with just one or two inhabiting a given lake. As we canoed around Lynx Lake, we came upon one several times, cooing eerie songs before diving for long periods of time.
Their songs, when heard at twilight or early morning, always demand full attention and always delight.
Ramblin’ ‘Round
One cloudy, rainy day, we took to the car and explored the surrounding towns. On the way out of Boulder Junction, we happened upon a large flea market held each Tuesday during the summer. I bought as “canned loon” for my sister from one vendor – a stuffed doll of a loon inside a can labeled with loon data. The guy told me how he had just seen a loon swimming on his lake, carrying its young on her back.
Most towns are spaced 7-8 miles apart. The curving asphalt roads are lined with about 10 feet of wildflowers and other greenery on each side, bordered by 60-foot high pine forests. The cloud cover seems to rest on the tree tops, and the effect is not unlike driving in a picturesque tunnel. Some vacationers had pulled off to the side of the road to pick berries. Sometimes the road ran alongside lakefronts, large and small, their shores embroidered with lily pads. We drove on, stopping in Sayner, St. Germain, Eagle River and Land O’ Lakes to wander through gift shops, galleries and snack shops.
For lunch, we stopped at the AquaLand Ale House( ), just west of Boulder Junction. Open just a few months, Aqualand’s ambitious young owners feature a nouvelle take on traditional Wisconsin menu items, plus a cast of 20 rotating craft beers on tap. I couldn’t resist the cranberry bratwurst panini, with the cooked sausages sliced lengthwise inside a toasted bun and a cup of local cranberry chutney on the side. My sister chose the scrumptious pulled-pork quesadilla, while wife and niece went light with a not-too-spicy tortilla soup, wisely saving room for supper.
As the days floated by, us city slickers quieted down noticeably, our urban anxieties reduced to a mellow (sometimes alcohol-induced) glow.
In the Shadow of Gangsters

For our last dinner Up North, we traveled to nearby Manitowish Waters, home to the infamous Little Bohemia Lodge ( ). In operation since 1929, Little Bohemia is the site of a famous shootout in April 1934 between the FBI and gangsters John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Part of the 2011 film, Public Enemies was filmed on the premises(, and a wall outside the bar features photos of employees with actor Johnny Depp, who portrayed Dillinger.
The place was packed, and we sat in the bar until our table was ready. Tommy guns hung from the wall behind the bar, and one wall featured a number of framed front pages headlining the gunfight. In the winter of 1934, Dillinger, his gang and their girlfriends holed up in the lodge. Its owner, Emil Watanka, shared an attorney with Dillinger and had agreed to put up the gang for an enormous sum. Once Watanka was paid, his wife contacted the FBI office in Chicago, headed by famous gangster fighter Melvin Purvis. Purvis and a small army of agents and police from surrounding towns descended on Little Bohemia on a snowy night and blocked the long driveway with their cars. But three innocent diners left the lodge and found their departure blocked. The FBI agents mistook them for gangsters and riddled the car with bullets, killing one and wounding the others. Roused from a card game by the shooting, Dillinger and his gang gathered their guns and money and made their escape along the lake shore, and only Nelson stuck around long enough to exchange gunfire before his escape. The gang commandeered cars from nearby residences and drove to St. Paul, while the FBI, convinced the gangsters were still inside the lodge, surrounded it and riddled it with hundreds of bullets for hours as Watanka and his employees hid in the basement. Many bullet holes remain.
As our table came open and we traversed from the bar to the large dining room, I noticed polo shirts for sale, with the Little Bohemia logo and wording stitched underneath: “Dillinger only left because he had to.”
We dined on walleye, of course, in an outer dining room that looked out onto the lake. The food was quite good, the service infrequent. At an adjacent table, dessert was being served. What looked like giant ice cream sundaes topped with whipped cream turned out to be brandy Alexanders. But they were so huge, we weren’t tempted after the filling meal.
We drove back to our cottage, found Zastrow’s bar open and decided on a final nightcap. To my sister’s delight, the barkeep was serving Alexanders. Fully seven scoops of ice cream went into each, with the overflow resting in an aluminum milkshake tumbler aside the glass. Price: 4.50. When other patrons saw my sister’s, they ordered likewise.
We meandered our way back to Milwaukee, adding perhaps 90 minutes to the return trip. We took county highways though Rhinelander, New London and Oshkosh.
Our reasoning: we wanted to stop in tiny Wittenberg, where we made a pilgrimage to the corporate headquarters and company store for Nueske’s (, home of “America’s Original Applewood Smoked Meats.” For foodies in the know, it’s a landmark. We came away from the store with a jar of German basil mustard, a pound of aged jalapeno cheddar and some dried landjaeger sausage. They had a cook wagon out on the lawn, so we lunched on bratwurst and meaty beans, fortified for the home stretch.
We flew back to Denver the following day – sated serene and sure to return. Once you’ve been, the Wisconsin woods and lake country are sure to beckon and you’re fairly certain to answer the call.

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