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From living in an Airbnb to starting a business

Andy’s Pontoon Saloon in Eagle River set to open this month

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May 13, 2024

EAGLE RIVER – Andy Lichtfuss said he’s hoping his same hard-work mentality in the corporate world will translate to success in his new business venture – the owner of Andy’s Pontoon Saloon.

The establishment, located at 220 E. Wall St., is a family-friendly, dog-friendly, indoor/outdoor beer garden in the heart of downtown Eagle River with plans to open in early May.

Andy’s Pontoon Saloon, Lichtfuss said, will have weekly events, such as live music, trivia and beer yoga.

Patrons can also watch a game, enjoy a beer, grab food, play bags or take a selfie on the pontoon boat located on the property.

“As with any new business venture, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous,” Lichtfuss, who grew up in Oshkosh and later played football at St. Norbert College (SNC) for four years in De Pere, said. “But, the closer we (got) to opening, those nerves (became) more of excitement. This venture is the hospitality industry… similar to my master’s degree but different. I’m trying something completely new.”

To ease those nerves, Lichtfuss said he’s leaned on family and friends.

“My support system has been incredible – even other business owners in Eagle River,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Eagle River has similar bars (to Andy’s Pontoon Saloon), but none are downtown. I’ll be the only bar like this in downtown Eagle River.”

How it started

How he went from earning a master’s degree from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in industrial organizational psychology (essentially business psychology), to opening Andy’s Pontoon Saloon, Lichtfuss said, is a story in itself.

“While growing up, I came to northern Wisconsin all my life on fishing trips,” he said. “Eventually, my family purchased a place in Eagle River, which meant I could spend way more time up here. I fell in love with Eagle River.”

At the same time, Lichtfuss said, after SNC and getting his master’s degree in Chicago, he was lucky enough to travel and live all over the country.

“With that degree, many doors opened,” he said. “I worked at a consulting firm called KMG out of Chicago and Milwaukee for six years.”

The story, Lichtfuss said, gets more interesting from there.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, my job at KMG became completely remote – I could live and work wherever I wanted,” he said. “So, I put all my possessions into storage, loaded up my car and lived out of Airbnbs for a year, a month at a time.”

Those travels, Lichtfuss said, took him all over the country.

“I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Key West, Florida, Chicago and even Eagle River for a month,” he said. “During that time, I wasn’t a tourist, but I got to explore those cities and check out taprooms and beer gardens and get a sense of what I liked and didn’t like.”

At that point, Lichtfuss said he had no intention of buying a restaurant/bar – but fate intervened.

While living in an apartment in Nashville, Tennessee, he visited Eagle River and saw that Butch’s Pizza North was for sale. 

“The building Andy’s Pontoon Saloon is situated in, used to be Butch’s – it was a staple in Eagle River that had fantastic pizza, and everybody loved it,” he said. “It’s downtown on the corner of Wall Street and First Street – one of the main intersections in town.”

After months of talking to his family and friends and doing tons of research, Lichtfuss said, “I found opening a beer garden in Eagle River was a real option I could pursue.” 

From then until now

Lichtfuss said he toured Butch’s for the first time Aug. 6, 2022, and closed on the property Oct. 21 that same year.

“During that time, I continued working at KMG to fund the renovations going on at the Pontoon Saloon,” he said. “I left KMG at the end of February this year.”

Lichtfuss said when he purchased the building, “the potential I saw was in the outdoor space.”

“I thought it could be a terrific beer garden space – an indoor/outdoor space with garage doors I could open during nice weather,” he said. “I plan to be open the majority of the year – not necessarily seasonally.”

Constructing the outdoor space, as well as taking down the fence that was in the corner space, Lichtfuss said, were the main goals.

“That corner space will be a family-friendly, dog-friendly beer garden,” he said. “We’ll have string lights, games and good beers from across the State of Wisconsin. We’ll only have Wisconsin-made products.”

The kitchen portion of Andy’s Lichtfuss said, will open later this month. 

“And we’ll serve Lotzza Motzza Pizza – a Wisconsin favorite frozen pizza made in Green Bay,” he said. “The pizzas will be made out of the old Butch’s pizza oven.”

From the time he closed on the property until Andy’s Pontoon Saloon’s opening day, Lichtfuss said, was a total of 18 months – which was done strategically.

“I was still living in Nashville, so I took the next couple of months researching,” he said. “Throughout all the traveling I’ve done, that’s how Andy’s Pontoon Saloon was born. And, throughout all that traveling, the best place I’ve ever lived is Eagle River in the summertime.” 

What’s in a name

Lichtfuss said the name – Andy’s Pontoon Saloon – has a special meaning.

The Andy’s part, he said, is obvious.

The Pontoon portion of the name, Lichtfuss said, was inspired by a partnership he has created with a local business.

“I’m partnering with Northern Edge Marine (& Welding) out of Land O’ Lakes,” he said. “It’s a partnership where they (provided me with) a pontoon for the summertime – I’ll have it until October. That pontoon will be used for my live music stage. The beer yoga instructor will also be in the pontoon.”

Lichtfuss said the pontoon will also be utilized during other events.

“When I do trivia, the pontoon will be the stage,” he said. “It will also be used for seating if there isn’t an event going on. People can get up there, sit in the driver’s seat, drink beer and eat pizza. It’s a win-win-win – it’s good advertising for Northern Edge, good for me because I get to use a pontoon for free and good for the pontoon manufacturer, Montego Bay.” 

Food options

Lichtfuss said in addition to Lotzza Motzza Pizza, Andy’s will also offer other “Wisconsin-only products.”

“We’ll have giant pretzels from Milwaukee Pretzel Company,” he said. “I’m open to anything and won’t shut the doors on offering more food options in the future. There’s always a possibility of doing a full kitchen, but right now, I’m content on sticking with the more traditional beer garden food – pizzas and pretzels.” 

For information on Andy’s Pontoon Saloon, find it on Facebook and Instagram.

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