Curiosity: The man above the bowl bar
Photo of Myles Dannhausen Jr.
You could sit at the Sister Bay Bowl bar dozens of times before you notice it. Tucked high behind the upper cabinet on the north side of the bar, a single picture hangs. Just a man in a bomber jacket, hands on hips, with a beautiful sunset of purples, oranges and pinks behind him.
Is that a photo of the owner, or the owner’s father? After all, it’s the only picture up there, watching every night as old-fashioned people fill the bar, bowlers bring their scoresheets to the counter to pay, and bartenders curse an order for another round of grasshoppers.
But it’s not the owner. It’s Bob Collins: a man who has never been employed, but who has largely contributed to the success of the Bowl.
Collins was the morning DJ for Chicago radio superstation WGN-720 AM from 1986 to 2000. His show was the highest-rated morning show in Chicago, and he happened to be a good friend of a Sister Bay restaurateur by the name of Al Johnson. . Collins often visited Sister Bay, staying in Johnson’s boathouse. This inevitably led to on-air plugs for Al Johnson and Sister Bay Bowl fry.
“He would do his show and he would say he was heading to Door County and my first first stop will be the Sister Bay Bowl for that big perch fry,” recalled Sharon Daubner, daughter of Earl and Rita Willems, founders of the Bowl. “I was asking people to come in and say, ‘Yeah, we heard Bob Collins say he was coming to the Bowl tonight. And once he got there, we never charged him a penny.
“He loved Al Johnson’s and he loved the Bowl,” recalls Sharon’s son Mike Daubner, who grew up working in the family Bowl business before opening his own restaurant – Boathouse on the Bay – down town. the street. “He became great friends with my mum and dad [Sharon and Dick Daubner]. Dad would go to WGN with a cherry pie and talk about the Bowl, Al’s and fry. It was a very popular show, and that helped.
By the mid-1990s, the Bowl was routinely serving over 700 fish fry orders every Friday night, reaching 775 orders. Many of them were due to the words of Bob Collins.
An amateur pilot, Collins died on February 8, 2000, at the age of 57, when his plane collided with a pilot guided by a student pilot while approaching the runway at Waukegan Regional Airport, outside of Chicago. When Collins died, the owners of the Bowl honored his memory by placing his picture above the bar, where it still hangs today.
And his approval still resonates with the people of Chicago. A Tripadvisor review from 2016 is titled “Bob Collins would tell you Sister Bay Bowl is the best.”