Wayne’s, Mel’s each celebrating 20 years by raising funds for local groups

Wayne’s, Mel’s each celebrating 20 years by raising funds for local groups

‘Double up’ for charity 

 Wayne’s, Mel’s each celebrating 20 years by raising funds for local groups

 By Colleen Jurkiewicz

 Special to the News Graphic

 CEDARBURG — Two beloved local entities are celebrating a big milestone this summer, and they’re teaming up to mark the occasion in a way that benefits the whole community.

 Wayne’s Drive-in in Cedarburg opened its doors for the 20th season May 1, and on Sept. 30 of this year, Mel’s Charities will be hosting its 20th annual pig roast. To celebrate the double anniversaries, through July 31 all customers at Wayne’s will be asked if they want to “round up” their bill to benefit Mel’s – a fundraising initiative that has already far exceeded all expectations.

 “We were hoping for $5,000 in three months, and we should easily double that,” said Wayne’s General Manager Steve Michalica. “That just again proves what this community is like – they’re just very, very generous people.”

 Mel’s founder Tom “Mel” Stanton reached out to Michalica earlier this year after hearing that Wayne’s would be doing several fundraisers to mark their 20th anniversary.

 “It’s always intrigued me, when you go to these grocery stores and they ask you to round up for a charity – I’ve done it all the time, and I’m like, boy, it would be kind of neat to see if we could ever do one of those for us,” Stanton said. He suggested the idea to Michalica. “He said, when can we start?”

 Both Stanton and Michalica call the initiative “a perfect match” between a business and a nonprofit that are both focused on fun and driven by a love for Ozaukee County and its residents.

 “People that come to Mel’s events, they come in and they’ Σre smiling. They’re having fun,” Stanton said. “You pull into Wayne’s on a nice night or a nice day, (you can tell) it’s just different (from other restaurants). And we’re different. That’s why this was a perfect match.”

 Wayne’s was founded in 1998 by Wayne Houpt, owner and president of Thiensville’s Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson. Houpt bought the property from Michalica, who used to run the Covered Bridge Inn on the site. Michalica was retiring and planning to move to the western part of the state with his wife.

 “He had this idea that he wanted to do a retro kind of thing,” recalled Michalica. “He brought it up to me and said, why don’t you stay?” Michalica has been the manager ever since. “I actually held the hammer and nailed the nails in.”

 The business has between 30 and 35 employees, said Michalica, most of whom work part time, aside from a nucleus of full-time staff who are retained year-round. Remarkably, Wayne’s has been able to avoid the staffing issues that often plague restaurants – the staff is as loyal as the customer base, he said.

 “We’re going on siblings of siblings of original staff,” he said. “We try to have fun with what we’re doing. It’s a very busy place, so it also requires some attention to detail, but at the same time, we like to enjoy what we’re doing. Our entire staff likes being here. It’s a lot of work, but fun.”

 A lot of work, but fun – that’s also the mindset of Mel’s Charities. It all started in 1995, when Stanton and a group of friends began to get together every fall at Cedars Lanes in Cedarburg.

 In 1999, a close friend of Stanton’s died of cancer, leaving behind a daughter with special needs who participated in the Special Olympics. The group decided to hold a raffle in memory of the single mom at their fall event that year, and though they didn’t exactly realize it at the time, that was the first Mel’s Pig Roast. That raffle raised $350.

 Nineteen years later, the impact of the pig roast – and the many other charity events and initiatives spawned by Mel’s – has grown exponentially.

 “We impacted one person’s life in 1999 and donated $350,” said Stanton, who estimates that the organization will have netted over one million dollars for local charities by this September. “We were just wanting to have a party and have fun.”

 As described on its website, Mel’s strives to be “the clearinghouse of philanthropy in Ozaukee County.”

 The local organizations who have benefitted from Mel’s grants run the gamut from educational initiatives, scholarship funds, museums, community clubs and nonprofits like Camp Hometown Heroes, Honor Flight of Wisconsin, Advocates of Ozaukee and many more.

 But every dollar raised stays local, said Stanton, and just as important as spreading the wealth is spreading the good feelings. The organization’s motto is “Great Times for Great Causes,” and from the September pig roast to Melapalooza in July or BC’s 8-Pin Tap in May, the fundraisers are as heavy on the fun as they are on raising money.

 Mel’s focus on benefiting local causes “fits perfectly” with Wayne’s culture, said Michalica.

 “Especially this year, we’re doing just a ton of fundraisers and they’re all community- oriented,” he said. “That’s who supports us, so that’s who we support.”