We recently made the trek out to Panga and realized that it really wasn’t much of a trek at all. Mike and Kristyn Eitel, who also own The Nomad and the BelAir chain, acquired the Oconomowoc-based Panga in early June.
For our Friday visit, we chose to take "the long way" – via the "country roads" – for a few reasons. We were driving our rarely-out-of-the-garage convertible 1975 Eldorado, it was one of the first really summery days and, more than anything, we wanted to feel like we were on vacation even though we had worked in the office all morning and weren’t really on vacation.
Although the freeway is close to Panga – and Nomad Boardsports, a bait shop and equipment rental facility also on the property – the space feels like a resort. Located on the edge of Upper Nemahbin Lake, we felt like jumping into the sparkly water as soon as we got there. But we didn’t. We went inside, grabbed some beers, signed our names with neon paint pens on the walls (this is customary) and then jumped on a pontoon within 10 minutes of being there.
Arguably, there’s nothing more relaxing than drinking a Modelo on a boat with friends on a sunny, 80-degree Friday afternoon.
What struck us the most during our visit was the friendliness and sincerity of the staff, from the guy working in the bait shop to the biker-looking dude who ran out on the dock to help us navigate the pontoon back from the lake, which has a fun, party feel to it with lots of regulars also enjoying adult beverages.
"We kept the entire staff from the previous spot – they are just awesome and are already becoming family," says Mike. "They know everybody, they work their asses off and we are incredibly lucky that we were able to keep them."
The manager, Theresa, has been there three years and is working closely with Kristyn who oversees all operations at Panga.
"While Kristyn is not the ‘manager,’ she is definitely the boss," says Mike. "I stick to the role of the crazy guy in the corner wearing the goofy hat and cranking out the ideas that drive people batty. Basically, the same as we’ve always done but now we get to do it together as partners."
The romance of the place is evident as well, which makes sense considering Mike and Kristyn were engaged on the lake and that is, in part, why they initially wanted to buy the place.
Mike, originally a member of Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group and Lowlands Restaurant Group, formed a company with Kristyn this year called Max Zimmer in honor of their grandfathers.
"Max was my German grandfather’s first name and Zimmer was her German grandfather’s last name," says Mike. "Hopefully, we are going to grow the Nomad and Panga concepts over the next few years as we find weird, awesome spaces like what we just found at Panga. We have been looking hard in a couple of other markets."
Mike and Kristyn have big plans for both Panga and Nomad Boardsports. They will close the bar this winter after the season ends and do an extensive remodel of Panga that will include new bathrooms, a kitchen and an improved dining area.
Currently, the food is simple, solid bar fare. We had a platter of deep fried things, all of which hit the spot after an afternoon of boat beer drinking.
The couple also plans to grow Nomad Boardsports, which serves as a bait / snack / gift shop and rents stand-up paddle boats, kayaks, bicycles (the property is located on the lake country bike trail), canoes, pontoon boats and, soon, fishing boats.
"We are going to be hitting trade shows this fall and winter so we are ready for next season with the full-service boardshop," says Mike. "Everything at Panga and Boardsports is all pretty temporary while we design our remodel of the two buildings. We’ve gotten a good start on plans and will be heading out for approvals soon."
In the meantime, we’re planning our next Friday getaway to Panga.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.