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Tomahawk motel under new ownership – but the tradition continues

The 16-unit, two-story motel is quite well-known in the area

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May 13, 2024

TOMAHAWK – Nestled in the heart of downtown Tomahawk and right across the street from the Wisconsin River on about two acres sits the Bridge Inn Tomahawk – a 16-unit, two-story motel whose history is well-known in these parts.

Creating a new history are Tomahawk native Jim Sweeney and his wife, Muna, who took over ownership of the property last October.

“Our original idea was to buy a three-bedroom, two-bath Airbnb property so when we were home seeing my family, instead of staying at my mom’s in a smaller place, we’d have a place of our own to stay,” Jim said. “Then, when we weren’t here, we’d rent it out as an Airbnb. But we were having a heck of a time finding something.”

Jim said every option the realtor showed them would require them to pay “way over list” price or “we’d lose it.”

“We looked for six months and made no progress,” he said.

When they couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for, Jim said the realtor showed them the inn.

“We looked at it and immediately said, ‘we want it,’” he said. “That was it. I knew the legend of the place. It was a darn good business (back in the day).”

Over the years, the property was always some kind of lodging.

According to the Tomahawk Regional Chamber of Commerce, the first lodging here started back in the 1940s when Lester Verlaine bought what was then known as the Bridge Tavern and Motel; it was nothing more than six cabins.

In 1945, Verlaine built a new Bridge Tavern, and in 1947, he added six more cabins and a laundry room.

According to the chamber, in 1978, Donald Sr. & Ruth Kaplanek bought and replaced all six cabins with a 16-room motel, which formally opened in April 1979 as the Bridge Inn Motel.

The Kaplaneks also had a property next to the motel, which is known today as Outboards Bar & Grill.

Donald Sr. passed away in 2005 and Ruth and their son, Donald Jr. – better known in the community as “Andy” – ran the motel himself until he passed in 2016.

“Andy’s” brother, Ronald “Grease” Kaplanek, took over the motel after his brother passed, but decided last year it was time to retire – and sold the property to the Sweeneys.

Though the legend of the inn continues in some ways, Jim said he and Muna are “rebuilding a legend.” 

Major renovations

The Sweeneys said they spent last October and November painting all the interior rooms and common areas, cleaning and having electricians and plumbers redo whatever needed updating – which included a new HVAC throughout the property.

The common areas, Jim said, also all have new tiles.

The couple said they also updated the linens to bring a clean look and bright glow to the rooms. All 16 rooms also now have new smart TVs with cable that offer 120 channels. 

Though the Sweeneys made several updates to the property, Jim said they kept all the rustic decor so many guests have loved over the years. 

The property’s seven ground-floor rooms – which all feature walk-out patios – opened Dec. 1, 2023. 

That was followed by a March 1, 2024, opening of the nine rooms upstairs, which all boast a brand-new deck system. 

The couple said they still plan to install a perimeter fence and eventually paint the exterior of the motel.

What’s in a name?

The Sweeneys said they changed the property’s name slightly – from Bridge Inn Motel to Bridge Inn Tomahawk – so it would have its own identity, yet not be too far off from the original name. 

“We chose to keep part of the name because it’s a legend,” Jim said.

Muna said they chose to add Tomahawk to the inn’s name so it would be easier for people to find as they reached places to stay.

“If you go to the internet, there are lots of Bridge Inn motels,” she said. “This will make it stand out, and you’ll know right where it is.”

The front door of each room at the Bridge Inn Tomahawk, Muna said, offers a view of the Wisconsin River, which is a mere 100 feet across the street from the motel. 

Guests, Jim said, can enjoy free Kwahamot Water Ski shows from their deck or patio all summer long.

The property also has an outdoor fire pit available for guests to enjoy.

And in the winter, if snowmobiling is your thing, Jim said, the Northwoods Passage snowmobile trails are outside the back door of the motel. 

In terms of walkability, he said Bridge Inn Tomahawk has other places beat, hands-down.

“We’re the only motel in Tomahawk where you can park your car and walk everywhere, including a grocery store that is approximately only an eighth of a mile from the property,” he said.

Different kinds of rooms to choose from 

The Sweeneys said the motel is comprised of a variety of types of rooms.

Two of the 16 rooms are considered one-bedroom kitchenette suites – with one featuring a hot tub.

Of the remaining 14 standard-type rooms, five have king-size beds and nine have two queen-size beds. 

One of the rooms with two queen beds is pet-friendly. 

Other property particulars include:

  • A self-service coffee bar in the lobby area 
  • Two complimentary breakfast vouchers per stay for Tomahawk Family Restaurant, which is located one mile from the motel
  • Two vouchers for discounts at Outboards Bar & Grill next door (about 20 feet from the motel) – one is a BOGO drink and another one offers or discounts an appetizer or dinner
  • A 24-hour security camera surveillance in all public areas
  • Parking for cars, trucks, trailers and boats and RVs
  • Boat launch across the street from the motel

Modern-day features

Jim said the motel’s website ( drives business and is built primarily for booking.

“There’s not a lot of pizzazz, if you will, to our website, but it’s functional and how we handle all our reservations,” he said.

Bridge Inn Tomahawk offers a no-contact check-in and check-out process.

“It is a keyless entry system,” Jim said. “There are no keys, and there is nobody at the door waiting to greet you behind the counter.”

All reservations, Jim said, are run through a program called Hostaway.

“When you reserve a room, you get a code to the entry door to the property and a code to your room,” he said. “There’s an electronic keypad on the door where you enter the code you’ve been given before your arrival and the door opens. If a person encounters any problems along the way, there is a number to call and a live person, usually Muna, will assist them between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.”

The contactless check-in/check-out program, Muna said, has advantages for them as property owners as well.

“First, we save money on labor costs so we can offer a more affordable price to the customer,” she said.

Secondly is the labor shortage issue many places are experiencing.

“This is another way of dealing with the increasing problems of finding the right labor,” Jim said. “The system thus far has been fairly bullet-proof. It’s also a demographic thing. More and more people are giving us 5-star reviews because they like the no-contact entry and exit. Yes, some people aren’t at all comfortable with this. For those people, Muna can walk them through all of it.”

It is the same process, Jim said, as Airbnb or a Vrbo.

“It’s taking that same platform and stretching it out across 16 rooms,” he said.

The system, Jim said, also allows them to manage things remotely, as Jim still works full-time as a Minneapolis-based retailer.

Muna, however, said she is almost always available by phone, and they get to Tomahawk a minimum of once a month for a long weekend. 

The Sweeneys rely on a team of five-plus Tomahawk residents to handle the property’s cleaning and maintenance.

Jim said his sister and a close friend of his from high school handle the day-to-day management of the property.

“Any door lock problems Muna can fix instantly on the phone with you,” he said. “Any problems beyond door locks, we’d have the local staff mobilized. If it’s an emergency, the local staff would be there in 10 minutes.”

Jim said the Hostaway system also helps manage the cleaning process – sending a signal to the cleaning team when someone has checked out.

The Sweeneys said they also have a lot of local “variable partners.”

“Anything and everything we’ve done, we’ve tried to do locally,” he said. “Like a local plumber, a local electrician, a local furniture store and so forth. It’s a tightly wound machine.”

Booking-wise, Jim said they “already have multiple weekends sold out in the summer and fall.”

A dream come true

Taking over a property so steeped in Tomahawk history is something the Sweeneys said they feel fortunate and honored to do.

Muna said it is also a dream come true for her, who has only been in the United States for five years.

“She worked in hospitality for many years in Shanghai, China, including owning two restaurants there,” Jim said. “She couldn’t wait to get back into the industry.”

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