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Champps goes out on top

Owner's decision to close certainly wasn't based on lack of loyal customers

May 17, 2010

Greenfield — The co-owner of the local Champps Americana says the restaurant's upcoming closure has nothing to do with a lack of business and everything to do with a soon-expiring franchise agreement.

William Etter said the contract with Champps would have run out within the next few years and "I'm at the age of my life when I didn't want to be tied up with another long franchise agreement."

Though the Champps building at 5030 S. 74th St. wasn't technically on the market, people within the industry knew Etter's situation and that it would be available at the right price.

Well, the right offer came along, and on Saturday the business will close up shop after 16 years. Renovation work is set to begin soon for the Mexican restaurant, El Beso, that has claimed the site and will pattern the new restaurant after their southside Milwaukee restaurant El Fuego.

It's the kind of project Etter can remember undertaking at that same location some years earlier.

Years of Cheers

Etter and the Bluemound Restaurant Corp., in which he is an operating partner, converted the building from a Fuddruckers into a Champps in 1993. Soon afterward, it was filled with big-screen televisions showing every sporting event under the sun and the smell of made-from-scratch burgers.

And then came a loyal following of customers.

"The best definition I've had for the Greenfield Champps is that it's our 'Cheers,' " Etter said, a reference to the popular TV show and the local Champps' bevy of regular customers and its status as a community gathering spot.

Greendale resident Kitty Goyette would probably agree with Etter's definition.

Goyette said her four sons grew up with "Kids are King" night and the children's menu. Champps has been the favored place to celebrate a variety of family events, including birthdays, First Communion, graduations or simply Mom's night out.

Living about a quarter-mile from the business, the family loved the restaurant for its proximity too, Goyette said.

"I am sad to see Champps go," she said. "It has been our 'go-to' restaurant for years."

Part of a community

Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke, while praising El Beso's upcoming efforts, said he was also sorry to see Champps close, noting the business was active in the community.

Though Etter knew he made the right decision from a personal standpoint, it was still a difficult one nonetheless.

"We knew we did the right thing (in deciding to close), even though it's very hard," he said

And customers aren't the only ones who will be missed.

Over the years, Champps has been a stepping stone for many employees to go onto successful careers ranging from law practices to teaching, Etter said.

"It's very satisfying to see a lot of great people go on to good careers," Etter said.

Etter said about half of the Greenfield staff will transfer to the Champps in Brookfield, another of Bluemound Restaurant Corp.'s holdings.

Ideals to the end

As the clock ticks down, a number of food items from the 1990s have been brought back to celebrate Champps' 17 years in Greenfield, Etter said.

In each of those 17 years, and in the 40 years he has been in the restaurant business, Etter said he has taken a four-pronged approach: quality food at a fair price with outstanding service in a clean restaurant.

Champps' longevity in the always-shaky restaurant industry would seem to indicate that goal was accomplished.

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