“The Bridge” joins Okoboji to Arnolds Park, over a channel connecting East and West Lake Okoboji. The junction of all traffic – rail, bicycle, foot, auto, horse, and, of course, boat, this area has drawn people together for over a century. One such person was a man named W.S. Wilson. Wilson and generations of his family would operate a General Store (The Okoboji Store), boat livery, bait shop, and Wilson Boatworks from this historic spot.
The Okoboji Store provided supplies, hardware, groceries and a place to meet and mingle. Goods were delivered by horse-drawn wagon. The Wilsons built boats bearing their name, rented boat slips, serviced and drove steamboats, and operated the swing bridge over the channel. Eventually, Fred Wilson started Wilson Boatworks, a Chris Craft franchise, and Zeke Wilson became known as one of the area’s most famous fishermen and official Iceologist recording “Ice Off” and “Ice On” dates of the Iowa Great Lakes. The Wilsons worked hard and played hard, maintaining a love for the lake and the Okoboji Life.
Fast forward to 1988: Dick and Donna Mau, together with their two daughters Julie and Susan, would begin vacationing in Okoboji. A love affair, similar to the one started by W.S. Wilson would commence. In June 1988, the two families were forever joined in history with the purchase of Wilson Boatworks by the Mau Family, and Mau Marine was established.
“I really love the parallel of the Wilson family with ours,” said Julie (Mau) Andres, co-owner of the marina. “As sisters, Susan and I feel a kind of kindred spirit with them. It’s awesome to think about our family enterprise still taking care of people in the same way that theirs did for decades.”
Customer service, hard work, and boating were part of the girls’ lives from a very young age.
“We ran a 6-horsepower outboard by age seven and could handle pretty much any boat by age 12. When our parents bought the marina, we worked on the gas dock and have cleaned hundreds, probably thousands of boats,” she said.
In 2002, Julie (Mau) Andres and Susan (Mau) Neuharth purchased Mau Marine from their parents and later added The Okoboji Store property to their campus. 2019 marks the 31st season for Mau Marine and fifth for the restaurant.
“Not everyone can work in a family business,” admits Julie. “But we make a great team!”
Julie focuses on sales and marketing, while Susan handles the financial side of the businesses.
“We have totally different skill sets which enable us to differentiate our roles and stay out of each other’s way,” Julie said.
The sisters share a commitment to a high standard of quality in all they do and a desire to remain totally in-tune with what their customers need and want.
Having grown up boating, Julie and Susan recognize the way the sport uniquely draws families together – something they also enjoy themselves, with their husbands and boys. Nothing compares with a day in the boat, swimming off the platform, and coming home to the light of the moon.
“Joe and I love those night cruises in 'Sounds Good,' Joe's 1949 Chris Craft,” said Julie. "While Susan and Shane enjoy running the latest Sea Rays or Boston Whalers."
“It is easy to be inspired to help people create memories like that with friends and family,” Julie said. “The pace of the world today makes a day on the lake even more rare and beautiful.”
“We literally get to help make people’s dreams come true!” Susan is fond of saying. It is the “why” of Mau Marine.
The team agrees that meeting new people is the best part of having added the restaurant—The Okoboji Store to the enterprise.
“We drove our families absolutely crazy,” the sisters said, when describing the three years of brainstorming that went into creating the Okoboji Store concept.
“Ultimately, the history of the Okoboji Store was just too rich to ignore,” Julie said. “It resonated both with locals who remember the original, as well as visitors interested in learning more about the history of the area.”
Visitors know the owners are moms, foodies, and live music lovers. Any kids that come through the door enjoy the playground, Legos, Goldfish, and Spaghettios, while live music and imaginative Midwestern comfort food and drinks delight older guests.
“Service is THE most important part of what we do, and we are blessed to get to work with an outstanding team at the marina as well as the restaurant,” said Julie.
The staff knows that their customers’ time is perhaps their most valuable commodity.
“We focus on quick service, yes, but a level of quality that is personalized and not only meets our customers’ needs, but anticipates them,” she said.
A look south across that place where East and West Lake Okoboji meet, and down what was a dirt track and is now Highway 71, reveals change. Boats have certainly gotten more sophisticated in recent years with touch screens, electronics, joystick controls, and power-everything! However, a closer look reveals families and friends, both then and now, experiencing what still draws folks to Okoboji—a day on the lake and all the freedom, happiness, and togetherness only these blue waters can offer.