EAU CLAIRE — It’s been the site for seemingly countless prom and homecoming dinners, wedding festivities, engagement proposals and celebrations of life.
For nearly 40 years, siblings Joanne Palzkill and Claudia and John Draganowski have owned Draganetti’s Ristorante, 3120 E. Clairemont Ave. Though the family will retain “all branding, recipes and other intellectual property,” according to a Facebook posting by the business, the building and land upon which it rests will be sold by Dean Larsen of Acquisition Realty and Development.
“Thank you for all the great memories over the years and there have been many!!! The mothership will certainly be missed,” posted Kimberly Bowe of Eau Claire on Draganetti’s Facebook page, which received dozens of similar comments. “So happy for you all and your next chapter! All the best!”
“We had many friends that worked there as well as (husband) Jon having two surprise parties for me throughout the years,” Bowe added. “We were all texting back and forth ... trying to coordinate a Drag’s reunion. Oh, the memories.”
The family also operates the eatery Za 51 in Altoona’s River Prairie and a seasonal campground and restaurant, The Enchanted Inn, in Gordon. According to Palzkill, discussions after family meals started at least four or five years ago regarding cutting back a bit.
“Each year, of course, the three of us get closer to what would be considered ‘typical’ retirement age,” Palzkill said, “and Claudia should have retired years ago but she’s the epitome of a Type A person — she simply cannot resist rolling up her sleeves and getting really into all of the workings of all of our locations ... even though she’s more than earned the right to just come in and visit with the staff and customers and just enjoy.
“Even now, up north in the summers, she’s back in that kitchen working over a hot stove.”
Other factors played a role in the decision to sell as well.
In what Palzkill called a “sign of the times,” she said it’s become increasingly difficult to find enough staff to operate “a larger, full-service location.”
A death in the family was also influential. Palzkill’s brother, Jerry, recently passed away from cancer just short of his 71st birthday. He had owned and operated Drag’s Restaurant in Rice Lake with his wife, Colleen, and son, Jim.
“He was still working until the end,” Palzkill said. “He loved doing what he did, but his time ran out before he got the chance to cut back a bit and have that work-life balance.
“We saw the same thing happen with our parents (Kas and Clara Draganowski) growing up. Just when they started talking about cutting back a bit, their health declined and they missed that opportunity.”
Operations will continue at the restaurant until a buyer emerges.
“We don’t know how long it’ll take to find a buyer for the land and building where Drag’s Eau Claire is located,” Palzkill said, “It could take months or even a year or longer, so for now with the support of our great staff we’re going to keep going with business as usual.”
Once the sale is made, the most popular dishes, including the original family recipe for homemade pizzas, will be moved from Draganetti’s over to Za 51. The family also will be adding more convenience foods at the site and at other outlets. Palzkill and her siblings already sell keto pizza crusts and meatless lasagna through local grocers.
Palzkill anticipates the future owners possibly establishing a new restaurant at the Clairemont site. It operated as Ristorante Buono’s before it became Draganetti’s.
“We all worked together to remodel the restaurant and when we first opened we all physically worked in the restaurant every single day for many, many years,” she said. “The first three years were a tremendous struggle and then we finally got a foothold and some momentum and, 39 years later, here we are.”
And nearly four decades in business yields a considerable amount of good memories.
“Back in the day, we had bands once in a while. We met so many wonderful customers and friends,” Palzkill said. “I could go on forever; there were lots of laughs and a few tears along the way, but we were together and that’s all that mattered.”