Pandl's brunch memoir gets national publisher
Spongy cinnamon rolls coated in coarse sugar, piled high in a basket. Heaping mountains of boiled shrimp. Old fashioned pea salads and macaroni salads.
Smoked trout and pickled herring. Pancakes and omelets made to order. Baked whitefish, roasted leg of lamb, tenderloin tips bathed in gravy and spooned over noodles.
Bananas Foster. A giant chocolate chip cookie, saved for the drive home.
If Wisconsin had a state food, it would be the all-you-can-eat buffet, and in its day, none equaled the Sunday brunch at Pandl's in Bayside. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and promotions were celebrated there. We purposely avoided Mother's and Father's Days, which had the staff sprinting from kitchen to dining room as if it were running the high hurdles.
After about 40 years, the buffet's day ended when the Pandl family sold the restaurant in 2009 to a Jewish congregation that converted the building into a synagogue. Good for God, but disappointing for our appetites.
Few of the thousands who enjoyed the Sunday brunch over its four decades knew who was in the kitchen peeling the shrimp or in the dining room presiding over the pancake griddle. George and Terry Pandl had nine children, and about the time each's age hit double digits, he or she was rousted out of bed early on Sunday mornings to bolster the professional staff of cooks and servers making the brunch work like a well-oiled machine.
Johnny, Jimmy, Katie, Peggy, Chrissy, Amy, Stevie, Jeremiah and Julie (officially Julia) Pandl didn't have the luxury of sleeping in on Sundays. They went to work in the family business.
That alone provided plenty of grist for stories funny and sad. But patriarch George was a character who drank cocktails out of an empty cottage cheese bucket while pedaling his bicycle home after the final customer left on Sunday.
He would sometimes have to stop at Winkie's to call wife Terry and ask to be picked up. The bike was wobbling.
You get the picture. And we brunchers had no idea until the baby of the family, Julie Pandl, published "Memoir of the Sunday Brunch" last year.
Julie's college degree is in English, with a creative writing concentration. She has written a few overnight 10-minute plays for Combat Theatre, and she has done a little standup comedy using the family restaurant as her material. But her professional life has been spent in the the restaurant industry, working in the Pandl's catering division, selling restaurant and restaurant safety equipment, and now handling social media and writing a blog for the Boelter superstore.
Writing a book was certainly a leap. "I've known since I was in college that I wanted to do this," Julie said during a chat in her Shorewood flat. "I was itching to do it.
"I knew my dad was a character, and I thought the whole experience about growing up in a restaurant was readable material."
After the deaths of her parents, she began the project, taking a 10-month leave from work to devote full time to writing. "I was hell bent on going the traditional route," Pandl said, meaning she would search for a publisher.
But that is a daunting task for an unknown writer, and she eventually changed course, deciding to self-publish with the assistance of CreateSpace, a division of Amazon. The plan was to sell 5,000 copies and then pitch the book to agents, pointing to the sales figures.
Julie tirelessly plugged her book last year, doing readings and signings for North Shore book clubs; at her cousin's restaurant, Jack Pandl's Whitefish Bay Inn; at independent book stores in the Midwest, and even at several family-owned restaurants similar to Pandl's out in the state.
"Memoir of the Sunday Brunch" was the best selling non-fiction book at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon for 16 weeks last year, and before Pandl went looking for an agent, an agent found her. He was trolling websites of independent book sellers around the country and noticed how well Julie's book was doing at Next Chapter.
A deal was done with the agent, and the memoir was sold to Algonquin Press within 24 hours of the book being offered to publishers. "Memoir of the Sunday Brunch" is now off the market until November, when Algonquin will publish and nationally distribute it. A new cover and some small changes will distinguish it from the original edition.
Pandl's success is not surprising. She is a funny and irreverent writer with a consistent smart voice. You don't have to have ever eaten brunch at her family's restaurant to be thoroughly engaged by the book.
While the tales of cleaning smelly smoked trout through a nasty hangover and being scorched by a grease-spewing breakfast sausage hidden in a pocket are plenty amusing, the memoir is really a coming of age story that reflects a deep love for parents. Even if they were at times a bit wacky.
Julie will do 10 to 12 minutes of standup at an American Library Association annual conference program in Anaheim next Sunday. The Pandl's brunch will be her topic. She will appear with a group of humor writers that includes comedian Paula Poundstone and Lizz Winstead, a co-creator and former head writer of "The Daily Show."
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