Smith Plots New CoursesMarch 27, 1976
The Milwaukee Journal
Journal Business News
By Patricia Roberts
Lincoln Smith has a personal interest in this historical marker and wooden stock anchor in Port Washington. The marker mentions his grandfather. Journal Photo by Ernest W. Anheuser
Port Washington, Wis. — Step into Lincoln Smith’s office on the second floor above Smith’s Fish Shanty Restaurant here. He’s president of Smith Bros. of Port Washington, Inc., a firm which does several million dollars of business a year, and employs about 180 people during its peak season.
Smith’s office is small, about 6 by 9 feet. It contains a bookshelf holding tax and accounting books, a desk, a life preserver on the wall and that’s about it.
Lincoln Smith is not a pretentious man and his office tells that about him. It’s an inner one with no outside windows. He could have a panoramic view of Lake Michigan but says, “I’m here to work.”
It would be especially distracting to look out at the harbor and see his sailboat idling there, he said. At present he has only a 12 foot sailboat — “I have fun with that.” He would like sometime to own a larger boat so he could cruise more on the lake.
Fourth GenerationHe is a member of the fourth generation in the family business. His great grandfather, Gilbert, came to Wisconsin from New York State in the 1840s with one J.I Case. Gilbert had fished in the Finger Lakes region and probably Lake Ontario. Gilbert and Case went to central Wisconsin but eventually Gilbert settled in Amsterdam, a community north of Port Washington. Case went to Racine and opened a blacksmith shop, the forerunner of J I Case Co.
Lincoln Smith, who is interested in marine history, said that Gilbert’s father, William came west later to join his son in the fishing business.
Gilbert Smith had six sons but all Smiths now in the family business are descendants of only one, Delos. And the Smiths now in the business are quite a crew. Lincoln is president virtue of the fact that he is interested in figures, accounting and business. He calls his brothers “outdoorsmen.” One male cousin manages a Smith restaurant in Los Angeles and another the restaurant here.
When Lincoln was growing up he always knew he would go into the family business, a business far different from what it is now.
Now It’s DiversifiedIn those years the Smiths operated a fishing fleet. As a child, Lincoln worked clearing hooks, meaning he cleaned the gook from hooks after fish were caught. “I learned to mend nets,” he said, “and soon became a member of a regular crew.”
Now the Smiths have only one fishing boat left and it’s not operating at present because of fishing regulations.
Instead of fishing, they own a fish wholesale firm, the two restaurants, a retail store on N. Downer Ave. and another retail, store and fast food outlet on W. Fond du Lac Ave. in Milwaukee, and they are one of the largest processors of caviar in the country. They also own the large, new motel across the street from the restaurant here.
These holdings involve a number of corporations which even confuse Lincoln Smith at times. For example at a recent family board meeting, he wanted to make a motion concerning one of the firms. He asked his aunt the corporate secretary; if he was an official of that particular company. She said, “No,” and someone else had to make the motion.
“A business has to change with the times. As old as our business is, we are aware of this,” is Lincoln Smith’s philosophy.
No Relative ProblemsSmith was named Lincoln because he was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He’s always been amazed the number of people who, when told that, say, “Oh, on Feb 22nd?”
He is the kind of man who can be closely involved with a group of relatives in a business and get along fine - which says something about him.
In fact, he is more closely involved than others might be in the same situation. His wife’s uncle, Dr. Earl Huwatschek, a dentist in Port Washington, is married to Smith’s aunt, Hope, who is corporate secretary.
Smith knew his wife, Maxine, when she was a little girl living in Manitowoc, because his aunt was married to her uncle. After he got out of college he found himself looking at her in a new way at family gatherings. “She was 18,” he said.
During World War II, while he was in Port Washington High School, he enlisted in the Navy Air Corps. He said that was not so much that he wanted the glamour of flying over the Pacific but because young men of 18, which he was, were being drafted out of high school. The Navy Air Corps, he said, was the only branch of service that would defer him until he could finish high school.
The Navy sent him to what was then Lawrence College for a year as part of his training. After the war he finished college at Carroll on the GI bill.
Even then, he said, he was interested in figures and accounting. And evidently he was the right Smith at the right time because his business interest was obviously needed by the family firm in its changing years ahead.
Smith takes his place in the Port Washington business and civic community. He’s an immediate past president of the Rotary Club, a past president of the Jaycees, a past master of the Masonic lodge. He’s president and a trustee of the nonprofit Port Washington Cemetery Association.
He belongs to First Congregational Church and is active in the Personnel Management Association of Ozaukee and Washington Counties. His brothers, he said, are the ones who are active in commercial fishing associations.
The Smiths live simply. He rarely plays golf; he spends more time cutting his lawn. The Smiths live in a new, four bedroom frame home which he calls “large” and which was built to their specifications.
Looks to Sons’ FutureIn the past, family enjoyment has included motor trips. Two years ago the Smiths and two of their sons drove to Yellowstone and other western parks and then on to Seattle and Vancouver on a two week vacation.
Smith naturally is concerned about his three sons’ futures. He believes that young people today who go into business are going to have to know a lot more than their parents did.
Dana, 21, is in the Coast Guard serving out of Mobile, Ala. Smith is pleased that Dana will be entering cooking school in service. The training in mass food preparation should be useful in the family business.
Kirby, 19, is a freshman at Ripon College. “He is the student,” his father said proudly. “Straight A’s.”
Brian, 14, is in eighth grade at Thomas Jefferson School here.
Smith naturally is concerned also about the lake and fish conservatism.
The Port Washington harbor, he said “is lousy.” When winds come in from a certain direction off the lake, the harbor waters can be extremely rough and damaging. Smith remembers how his family would stay awake nights during storms when their boats were threatened.
One boat “sank right in front of our eyes on Dec. 28, 1966,” he said.
They Like SeafoodIn the controversy between sport and commercial fishermen over fish conservation, Smith takes the view of the men who catch fish to earn their livings. His firm does business with them, he was once one of them.
This does not, however, appear to be a selfish view. He looks out at the lake almost lovingly and says, “We believe that if there are any fish out there they belong to everybody.
As he probably should, Smith loves to eat seafood. Not long ago, he said, he and his family ate a different kind at two home meals per day for two weeks straight. They never tired of it because there are so many kinds and so many ways to prepare it, he said.
Although Smith works above a restaurant, he prefers to go home for lunch, which is possible in a town this size.
Smith and two other family members take turns working as Sunday managers in the retail fish outlet here. “It keeps me close to the fish business,” he said.
Smith tells how his Dutch grandmother, a frugal woman, started making caviar because she hated to see the fish roe wasted.
The caviar business, although, one of the largest in the nation, is only a small part of the Smith operation. The roe is bought from commercial fishermen and there’s about a 50,000 pound pack per season.
In his office Smith probably thinks more about taxes than going fishing. Among the many tax volumes on the shelf, the title of one book is “Forgery Self-Taught.”
Asked about it, he took the book from the shelf and laughed. “It’s only a paperbook jacket,” he said.