A Family Business Icon Celebrates its 100th – Four Generations Built Win Schuler’s into a Tradition

My parents used to marvel at the memory of Win Schuler.

We made the stop in Marshall, Mich., every time we traveled the I-94 corridor and “the consummate host,” as Win Schuler became known, would greet us at the door and call us by our names.

I was too young to remember, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he even remembered my parents’ drinks and had them on the table before we were seated. It seemed that he not only greeted us at the door, but he slipped into the kitchen to cook the food, and then showed up to serve it as well. Then offer the warm salutations at the door upon leaving.

What makes this all so remarkable is that it could be years between our family visits to this iconic restaurant and you always felt like you were visiting an old friend.

Now Win Schuler’s Restaurant and Pub (www.schulersrestaurant.com) is celebrating 100 years and four generations. That’s the stuff folklore is made out of. The Family Firm Institute, located in Boston, Mass. (www.ffi.org), claims that less than 3 percent of family businesses make it to a fourth generation.

As you would expect, the Schulers have a fascinating history and legacy to go with those 100 years.

Albert Schuler Sr. (G1) started a cigar shop on Main Street in historic Marshall in 1909. Inspired by his love of food and cooking, he soon added a bakery and lunch counter. Later he purchased a hotel and restaurant and named it Schuler’s.

A first generation Schuler, Albert Sr. set the standard for those who followed.

In 1934, Win returned home from Wakefield in the Upper Peninsula where he had worked as a teacher and football coach. Albert Sr. then turned the management of the hotel over to his sons, Winston (Win) and Albert Jr. (G2). Subsequently, Win bought out his brother Albert and renamed the restaurant “Win Schuler’s.” By 1954, Win Schuler had been nicknamed “the consummate host” for his hospitality skills -“ a key business value that remains today.

Win Schuler and his restaurant have won far too many prestigious awards and honors to elaborate. However, to give you a flavor of how the country took to this beloved restaurateur and his business, he won the coveted Ivy Award given by Restaurant and Institutions magazine to restaurants that gained great status and achievement in the industry. Schuler’s won the award the very first year it was offered -“ 1971 -“ as if it was waiting for them.

Albert, Win, Hans and a young Larry Schuler.

Win Schuler was not only bigger than life in his industry, but in his community as well. He served numerous not-for-profits and community organizations to better life in Marshall, the state of Michigan and his country.

One of his most famous innovations was serving his guests Schuler’s Bar Scheeze and snack chips after their long wait to be seated. The Bar Scheeze became so popular that it became an “over the counter sale” for the restaurant and was later marketed to supermarkets along with other Schuler products.

Hans Schuler (G3), Win’s son, officially joined the business in 1959, but like most family enterprises, he had really worked there throughout his childhood. Hans holds a degree from Michigan State University’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management School. Shortly after joining the business, Hans was put in charge of the Bar Scheeze production plant and the family butcher shop.

Win, Larry and Hans Schuler.

In 1982, Hans became chairman and president. In that same year he negotiated the sale of Win Schuler’s Foods and Bar Scheeze to Campbell Soups. But that was only after he had retailed the product line to United Airlines, who became their best customer and served the cheese on flights coast-to-coast. Under Hans’ leadership, Win Schuler’s concentrated on the flagship restaurants in Marshall and Stevensville, Mich. He also developed the concept of Winston’s Pub at the Marshall location in the early 1980s that remains very popular today.

Like his father, Hans has been active in industry, community, state and country and is one of the longest serving members of the AAA Michigan Board/Auto Club Group. He serves on the Marshall Economic Development Council and is a founding board member for The National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism. He is the past chair of the Kellogg Foundation’s Underground Railroad Committee and past chair of the Michigan Historical Center Foundation and Junior Achievement.

The fireplace inside Schuler’s Restaurant.

Larry Schuler (G4) currently serves as president. He was promoted to that position in 2007 after distinguishing himself both in and out of the family business. Early in his career he worked for Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, Calif. Next he did a stint with Westin during the startup of the Westin Hotel Galleria where he served as restaurant manager of three theme restaurants, as well as assistant food and beverage manager, with food and beverage sales topping $8 million. Certainly his outside work experience has brought valuable skills and insights to Win Schuler’s. Larry is also the owner/operator of Schu’s Bar and Grill in St. Joseph, Mich.

Like his father and grandfather, Larry is active in the industry and community. A former chairman of the Michigan Restaurant Association and chairperson of Pacesetter United Way, he is a winner of “Michigan’s Make a Difference” Citizen Award and is the current membership chairperson of the Berrien Community Foundation, having formerly served as a trustee. Larry remains an active and passionate fundraiser for the American Cancer Society after losing his wife, Molly, to a 10-year battle with the disease.

Business Acumen
Obviously this talented family has brought business acumen to the Win Schuler’s in each generation. They have been innovators in their industry and given back to the industry and community as part of the family’s values.

Hans and Larry are part of the third and fourth generation Schuler family, serving as CEO/chairman and president, respectively.

When asked about defining moments in the business’ history, Hans Schuler, who is now CEO and chairman, points to two milestones: “Selling the cheese business and my father retiring.”

Wondering how much of the business success was the Bar Scheeze in those famous brown crocks you used to see everywhere, Hans offered, “It has played a complementary role in our history and speaks to our success as a restaurant. We have always felt we are only as good as the last meal we served.”

Clearly it is the Schuler branding of hospitality that makes them unique in the industry. Hans claims that it is “our goal to exceed the guest’s expectations.”

Family Business Harmony
For any family business to make it 100 years and four generations is akin to Olympic Gold. How did they do it?

“Treat employees like family and continually communicate with each other to create an environment of trust. Trust is the basis for all communication. Have fun, have a passion for your work and don’t assume” are the words of wisdom from Hans -“ someone who should know the road to family business success.

Just a few years back I was able to stop in Marshall at Schuler’s with my parents, over 50 years since my first visit, and it was just as lovely an experience as it was back in the 1950s when Win greeted us at the door.

Congratulations on a remarkable milestone. I think I can speak for many of us when I say we look forward to the next 100 years.

Richard Segal is the chair of the Family Business Council, a membership organization of family owned businesses. He can be reached at [email protected].