Posted on June 30, 2024 by Grace Olson

Once called “Cookie Town USA,” Ripon, located near Green Lake in Fond du Lac County, looks and acts as charming as it sounds. But it’s not just the frivolous and fun that put the city on the map. 

Celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, the city of about 8,000 boasts a history and industrial footprint that distinguishes them both nationally and worldwide.

“We are known for being the birthplace of the Republican Party and having the Little White Schoolhouse where those founders were gathering because they were concerned about the moral issue of slavery,” Mandy Kimes, Executive Director of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce, explains. “It’s really something that captures the minds of people, whether they are into history or not at all.”

Ripon is also home of Alliance Laundry Systems, leading manufacturer of industrial size washers and dryers with locations all over the world.

“I think that’s one thing that really surprises people about Ripon is that we’re not just impacting our region or our state, but we’re sending things to Cairo and Thailand,” Kimes says. “It’s just amazing what Ripon has done and how it impacts the world.” 

Today, Ripon has evolved into an appealing balance of historic and contemporary, both aesthetically and when it comes to what the city offers visitors—both long-term and for getaway weekends.

“Depending on who you are, it’s different things to different people,” Craig Tebon, Executive Director of Ripon Main Street, Inc., says. “Expectations are definitely exceeded. People are blown away. There’s more of a ‘wow’ factor in Ripon than in a lot of other communities.”

Beginning with an iconic institution, Ripon College, established in 1851, the highly respected school provides the community with a frequent rotation of new people and activities, but has a presence and history second to none.

The campus comprises 250 tree-lined acres and 25 buildings, 10 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Elizabeth Taft, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at Ripon College, explains. “(Ripon College) contributed directly to the growth of the community. It is a national leader in innovative liberal arts education. Ripon theatre productions saw the first on-stage performances of alumni actors Spencer Tracy, Class of 1925; Harrison Ford, Class of 1964; and Frances Lee McCain, Class of 1966.”

“Today, much of Ripon’s historic downtown district is still intact, as well as many of the

town’s historic homes,” Caron Sisko, Administrator and Curator of the Ripon Historical Society, adds. “Known as the Watson Street Commercial District, it includes some of Jackson, Scott, Seward, and Blackburn Streets as well as the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of Watson Street.”

Twinkling lights now drape over the area from building to building, creating an ambiance that Tebon says has seemed to become just as noteworthy as some of their renowned events and activities. 

“You can see the lights from several blocks away. Now the people coming here are taking selfies with the lights. It’s just festive. The vibe is different in different seasons, so from our summer through the holiday season, we have concerts, our wine walks… there’s a buzz.”

“The founders of Ripon were either idealists and dreamers or the very pragmatic entrepreneurs who got things done,” Kimes says. “I always say that we’re still that mixture. That spirit really lives on. There’s just something special and beautiful here and we would love to share it with people.”


If not all, most people realize the importance of fuel while they explore a new city. And I’m not talking about the kind you fill your car with to get from point A to point B. 

It’s all about the food and drinks, and Ripon has a notably great variety that’s expanding every year.

Breakfast + Brunch

All about coffee and community, hit your stride with a morning light bite, quality coffee or specialty latte at Mugs and More.

“We use Element Coffee Co. as our local roaster,” Dakota Kutz, Daily Operations Manager, says. “The ‘Creme Brulee’ and ‘Funky Monkey’ lattes are more popular ones. As far as food goes, my personal favorite is the Avocado Toast but the Roasted Tomato & Pesto Grilled Cheese and Chicken Bacon Melt rank up there as well.

“We are also known for our relationships with our customers,” Kutz adds. “We’ve gotten so close to so many people over the years and I think that’s really built our customer base.

The current owners, Tom and Debbie Rogers took over in June of 2021 and completely remodeled the space to make it what it is today. Our mission statement has remained the same—at Mugs we are primarily about two things: coffee and community. Whether you live in Ripon or not, we want you to be a part of the Mugs community. We’re happy you’re here.”

With weekly specials that change often, Mr. and Mrs. P’s Eatery brings fresh and from scratch items not often seen in other places to the area.

“We have an in-house bakery that creates a plethora of items held in our pastry case for customers to grab and take with them, one-of-a-kind birthday cakes, and custom wedding cakes and dessert tables,” Kimberly Lawler, Restaurant/Catering Manager, explains.
It’s hard to pick the most popular choices at the local eatery.

“There are so many favorites! Banana Bread French Toast topped with a fresh mix of berries, our wide selection of Eggs Benedicts with homemade hollandaise sauce, fresh baked biscuits, and my personal favorite is our Reuben sandwich. It’s truly the best I’ve ever had.” 

Fun fact: “There is a Mr. and Mrs. P and you can find them working every day at the restaurant,” Lawler says. “They met while working in the Chicago area for a high end hotel. Mr. P being the executive chef and Mrs. P the head pastry chef. They decided to move away from the big city after they had their first child and open a place of their own. We absolutely love being a part of the Ripon Community and are so grateful to our wonderful customers.” 

If you’re strolling through downtown on a Sunday, hop to The Public House for their brunch with a twist (more on their dinner fare later).

“We serve our very popular ‘Reggae Brunch’ menu, and I always have a special on the board that day,” Kristi Ebbott, Head Chef/Owner, explains. “Our specials focus a lot on exploring different world cuisine, which provides a unique dining experience for those who are interested.”


Susan Marshall and Jen Rintelmann, proprietors of J’s BBQ, recently found out history of their space they hadn’t known before.
“We recently heard that mud wrestling used to take place at 333 Watson Street, but we weren’t around for those good ole’ days,” Marshall laughs. “If only the walls could talk, this building has so much history!”

The restaurant is known for their in-house Smoked Beef Brisket, Famous Mac N Cheese, Brisket Tacos, Hand-Breaded Haddock and Brisket-Bacon Baked Beans and has blossomed into a catering business, a trademarked brand in the retail and foodservice marketplace, a vendor of Sysco Foods, a federal contracted caterer for the Wisconsin National Guards, and now offers two retail stores called The Sauce Hub in Ripon and Green Lake.

If good food, locally brewed beer and a stellar renovation is what you’re after, Knuth Brewing Company is the ticket.

“All of our beer is brewed in our newly restored historic building, originally home to the Strauss Brothers department store. When you walk in you will see bright white ship-laps custom made from an Amish sawmill, exposed stone, and high ceilings,” David Knuth, Founder and Owner, explains. “(We) specialize in handcrafted artisan beer, wood fired pizza, fresh salads, and delicious sandwiches and wood fired wings. Our best selling beer is the Blue Eyed Blonde named after my wife who let me open the brewery so I named the first beer after her. In addition to our beautiful building we have a dog-friendly outside biergarten with artificial turf, lots of yard games, and even a 4-hole putting green.

“Brewery tours are offered on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons which are a great way to have some fun, drink some beer, and learn a little history about us and the beer brewing process.”

Pastimes Pub & Grille is the hangout for hamburgers, offering their signature half pound burger always fresh and cooked to each guest’s desired temperature, plus Sunday night trivia to enjoy.

“Our goal is to make each and every visit a great dining experience,” Adam Wagner, Owner says. “From the ‘hello’ when you walk in the door to the “thank you” as you leave. 


Approachable fine dining at Fox and Crow Bistro offers a “warm and inviting dining experience, serving New American dishes made with local and fresh seasonal ingredients.

“We’re known for creating a friendly and comfortable atmosphere where our food and service can stand out. Guests often compliment our cozy ambiance,” Co-Owners Katie and Patrick Isajiw say. “Our pasta dishes, steaks, small plates, and playful desserts are favorites amongst our guests!”

Housed in a 120-year-old building, the Isajiws say the character and history of the location adds a unique charm to the dining experience. “We also love to engage with our community through special events, including our wine dinner series.”

With daily specials and unique, elevated favorites like Pork Belly Banh Mi, hand breaded Chicken Sandwiches with Nashville Aioli and burgers and a Reuben sandwich, The Public House provides a casual dining setting and combines pub fare and fine dining. with globally-inspired cuisine.

“We have something for everyone; whether you are on a date night, craving globally-inspired cuisine, or in town for a shopping trip,” Kristi Ebbott, Head Chef/Owner, says. “Our most sought after dishes are…the Fresh Fish Special every Friday night… our hand-battered Guinness Fried Cod is also popular with the Friday night crowd.

“We slice all of our own meat, which makes our sandwiches really fresh. You can also get a wide range of appetizers, from our Brie, Fig and Bacon Jam Crostini to Parmesan Truffle Fries. All of our dressings are made in-house from natural ingredients, and I source fresh produce from local farms as much as possible.”

If classic pizza is what you’re craving, head over to Roadhouse Pizza where the recipes haven’t changed since the 1970s.

“Though we have expanded to a full bar and large event space since the start, the bones of this restaurant have not changed, only expanded,” Andrew Radke, Owner/Operator, explains. “We pride ourselves on consistency.”

The restaurant has staples like their Coastarican: bacon, pineapple, coconut and crushed red pepper on their homemade crust, signature pizza sauce and freshly grated whole milk mozzarella; The Roadhouse aka Supreme; Meat The Meats and Veggie Special. Roadhouse Pizza also includes hand patty fresh burgers and hoagies. They also boast the “best bartender around,” whose The Blushing Lady cocktail combines Hendricks gin, rose lemonade, hibiscus, lime and basil with black pepper.


A figuratively sweet day in Ripon deserves a literal sugary delicacy and sweet ambiance, and that’s where Belle’s Treats comes in. 

“We rescued and restored a vintage 1964 Airstream—the shiny home of our spectacular desserts and tasty delights,” Isabelle Willett, Founder, says. “Goodies for all!

They’re known for their “over-the-top” ice cream creations including Soft Serve Sundaes, Scandinavian Shaved Ice, Chocolate Chip Toffy Cookies, Spun-to-Order Cotton Candy and Jumbo Bavarian Pretzels.

“Belle’s Treats is all about a sweet experience,” Willett says. “The setting is charming (with) bistro tables and French umbrellas under twinkling bistro lights. Stop in and stay awhile.”

If you’re on the hunt for fun and whimsy with a side of ice cream, fresh fudge and an assortment of freeze dried candy, Sweet ‘n Saulty Ice Cream Parlor and its second location, SweetER ‘n SaultyER Ice Cream Parlor and Car Hop, are for you.
“We are known for our giant serving sizes and are home of the old fashioned banana split,” Owner Renee Saul says. “We are family and pet friendly… Everyone loves the Cookie Drop and Turtle Sundae.

“We have games on the table where families and couples can just sit back and enjoy playing a . This summer we are going to start our car hop. Our staff will come out to your car, take your order and bring it to your car with a window tray. We are so excited to begin this.”

good game of checkers, chess or cards while enjoying some of our sweet treats. SweetER n SaultyER Ice Cream Parlor and Car Hop (has a) 1950s rock n roll feel with our 50’s tunes playing and our red and black decoration theme… we have a large space for seating outside or inside


Described by Owner Sarah Willett as the “dreamiest corner in the world,” Patina Vie stands out on a local, national and international level. “Enchanting pretties, beautiful curiosities and sweet little somethings” make up the flagship location in Ripon.

“Our shelves are glistening with color-drenched glassware, dinnerware and entertaining essentials. Willett says. “Our shop showcases luxe rugs, pillows, bedding and  European treasures. Our authentically designed and curated mix of Patina Vie goods can be found in stylish boutiques around the world. We are so very proud to  feature and display our own branded goods in our local shop for all of our friends, neighbors and local customers.

Fun fact: The one-of-a-kind flagship houses their own Patina Vie Sipping Room, a bespoke bar within the shop serving wine, bourbon, and craft cocktails daily.

Hart Mercantile, a gift and home store offering both new and vintage items, is aptly named. Full of heart with a penchant for detail, Owner Dawn Hart works hard to bring mission-based products into the space.

“I care so deeply about what I bring into the store, because I want it to be so special for the customer,” Owner Dawn Hart says. “We work hard to offer locally made products, made in the USA items, and often from other small businesses. We also enjoy offering products that are mission based, specifically products that are employing survivors of human trafficking or those at risk for trafficking. We really believe customers can change lives in the way that they shop!”

Fun fact: My daughter, who is now 18, has worked in my business since she was 8 years old! Hart says. “So customers will often see her behind the counter. We have a lot of fun together and make a good team.”

Eclectic and color loving, Soul Patina offers a mix of new and well-curated vintage items. “(It’s) a little bit traditional with a dose of crazy fun mixed in,” Kelly O’Brien, Owner, says. “We want you to walk in and feel the happiness exude from our store! We carry everything from gifts, party, home decor, clothing and accessories.”

From home decor like driftwood garland and marble coasters to welcome mats and throw pillows, Fiddler Creek has something for everyone in terms of home decor. They want to customize your home, whether they have it or create it.

“On trend vintage decor” fills, Back Porch Gatherings, your go-to for furniture, candles, antiques, plants and more.

The American Alchemy, “a carefully curated lifestyle boutique offering quality merchandise and effortless style” buys ethically sourced, USA made merchandise when possible, and makes it as comfortable as ever to go clothes shopping.

“The American Alchemy is known for our Reels and Facebook Lives,” Owner Adrienne (Aje) Rank explains. “Customers enjoy shopping from home… (but) it’s my favorite when customers are walking around the shop laughing out loud at our hilarious greeting cards and mugs. We also offer a small selection of men’s clothing and accessories.”

The space often hosts workshops and parties, and is available to reserve for private shopping parties.

Fun fact: I have hand crafted fine jewelry for over 15 years and have a metal smithing bench right in the boutique, offering opportunities for customers to create custom pieces for special occasions like weddings and birthdays,” Rank says.

New-ish on the scene is one for the boys! Gents features men’s home decor, vintage vinyl, in-house barber, fine art, leather accessories and more. 


With a history as rich and well-known as it is, you’d be remiss to visit Ripon without stopping by the Little White Schoolhouse (now museum) that helped start it all.

“The Kansas-Nebraska Act had just passed, which was going to allow slavery to move into the northern territories,” Kimes explains. “All of the people who came together came from different political backgrounds but that day in that schoolhouse, after many hours of discussion, they decided to come together to start a new party that would take a stand against slavery.

“It really reminds us that you can dream big, that you need to serve your community and that you can come together to change the world.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, visitors are welcome to take a free tour of the intact schoolhouse complete with photographs and history.

If you’re on the hunt to see more from the past, the Ripon Historical Society’s The Pickard House is right up your alley.

“It was built around 1860 or 1870 (and) first belonged to a local businessman, then it became the home of Belle Pickard in 1912,” Caron Sisko, Administrator and Curator, explains. “In 1968, the home was given to the Society by Belle and her brother Sam. In 1998, in honor of the organization’s 100th anniversary, an addition was constructed on the back of the home, providing space for a library, kitchen, archive, and artifact storage area.”

The main museum includes a permanent exhibit that tells the story of Ripon’s history, and two exhibits that change annually. 

“The Society also owns and maintains the Pedrick-Lawson House, built in 1856. The house is made of grout blocks, an early form of concrete. The interior is very much a time capsule of a Victorian era home with furniture and artifacts that connect to Ripon’s

History,” Sisko says. “We also have a barn that reflects Ripon’s early history of raising animals in city limits. We periodically offer tours of those two buildings.”

After a day of learning, shopping and exploring, relax and sip Wisconsin grown wine at Vines and Rushes Winery.

“Visitors to the winery will experience our relaxed rural setting, while enjoying a glass of wine and award winning Wisconsin artisan cheeses,” Ryan Prellwitz, Owner/Winemaker, says. “In addition to serving wine, we also serve a selection of local craft beers at all times and wood fired brick oven pizza on select days.”

The winery also brings in entertainment in the form of live music. About 90 shows, to be exact, plus Artisan Marketplace Craft Fairs seven times per year. 

“We believe in the warmth of connecting with family and friends and look forward to sharing a taste or our slice of Wisconsin with you!” Prellwitz says.

Nature lovers have no shortage of recreation! South Woods, with 55 acres of forest, several miles of hiking trails with difficulties ranging from moderate to challenging; and the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy, 130 acres of public hiking and mountain bike trails that are being restored to its native prairie, oak savannah and wetlands habitat.

Trails meander through wetland areas that feature the impressive sights of a mesic prairie, an oak savanna and a glacial moraine. Runners, walkers and hikers will enjoy the paths that also connect with South Woods Crystal Creek.

The fall months bring wholesome family fun at Petals & Plow Greenhouse where The Kaufman Farm is hustling and bustling with an open greenhouse with pumpkins, squash, gourds, perennials, trees and shrubs all available for purchase to beautify and decorate your home. Enjoy their famous corn maze, music, food, face painting and more.


Small town charm and an active community are combined to create fun yearly events for the whole family in Ripon. Below are just a few of the several offered to locals and visitors.

Organized by Ripon Main Street, Inc., June through September brings the 30th year of the Ripon Summer Concert Series with free performances at The Village Green every Friday night.

“It’s every type of music from bluegrass to rock’n’roll,” Kimes says. “And we’re a community where your kids can run around and it’s safe, it’s wholesome… we don’t take that for granted because we know it takes a lot to have that kind of community.”

A variety of beverages are available and participants are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on.

If you want to know Ripon, you need to know the “Loop.” Scooping the Loop—on August 3 this year—honors a tradition that once was while delivering nostalgia and a fun new pastime for newbies.

“There’s this little loop in our Rotary Square downtown and back in the day, the cool thing was to drive with your friends and ‘scoop the loop,’ Kimes explains. “It stopped happening but now it’s been brought back. You don’t have to have a classic car to participate but it’s almost like you’re in a parade.”

Ripon’s Wine Walks and Craft Beer Celebrations are among the city’s most popular events, bringing fun to guests while also supporting local businesses.

“They’re great ways to kick off a season,” Tebon says. “And they’re a little more sophisticated than average… it’s high-quality wine and craft beer and it’s a great way to showcase different retail shops and different things we have.”

Fast forward to the holiday season and Ripon’s small town movie-esque charm comes out in full force. Kicking things off on November 9 is Christmas in the Village and its Reindeer Stroll,  something that’s become quite the attention getter.

“Toward the end of the day, we do a reindeer stroll where we’ll walk him up and down the street. It just feels magical and special,” Tebon says. “You don’t see something like that every day.”

Additional activities include a Live Reindeer Display at the Village Green, an ice sculpting demonstration on The Square, and carriage rides through the historic district.

Storefronts in the downtown historic district come alive during Dickens of a Christmas December 6 and 7.

“Whether it’s a craft fair or parade or quilt thing or whatever, we put it all underneath the umbrella of Dickens of a Christmas,” Kimes says. “It’s very community oriented.

In the evening we shut down the street and we do something called Living Windows. We have a theme… this year we had the characters from the Christmas Carol walking around interacting with the crowd with horse drawn carriages and things like that. It’s just a cute Wisconsin Christmas.”


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