Our History

The start of von Rutenberg Ventures goes back to 1961 when Bill and Betty von Rutenberg struck out on their own and purchased the Nibble Nook. This tiny eight stool hamburger spot (on East Washington Avenue just off the square) soon became hot spot for great burgers, fries, and shakes. Many customers today still mention how they loved those Nibble Nook burgers!

Five years later, Bill and Betty sold the Nibble Nook and bought Jack Burke’s Supper Club (now the Mariner’s Inn). Since that time, the von Rutenberg family has expanded both the menu and the building several times so that now The Mariner’s Inn is truly one of Madison’s landmark restaurants.

After years of operating the Mariner’s, the von Rutenbergs saw the need for more casual dining on Lake Mendota and the Nau-Ti-Gal was created. The marina business of von Rutenberg Ventures, Westport Marine, also originated at the same time. Westport Marine offers in-water and on-hoist boat slips at both the Mariner’s and Nau-Ti-Gal.

Several years later the von Rutenbergs started to develop the concept of a moderately priced seafood restaurant. When the Hatch Cover property became available, Captain Bill’s became a reality. In addition to seafood, Captain Bill’s features steaks, chicken, and pasta dishes. The outdoor deck, with its view of Lake Mendota, is sure to enhance your dining experience.

The most recent addition to von Rutenberg Ventures is Betty Lou Cruises. Named in honor of the late Betty von Rutenberg, Betty Lou Cruises offers private group charters for 20-100 guests and public cruises for individuals and small groups. Cruises sail from April to October and depart from the Mariner’s Inn on Lake Mendota and Machinery Row next to Monona Terrace on Lake Monona.

Bill and Betty’s son’s, Bill, Jack, and Robert, along with their outstanding crew, now carry on the tradition of waterfront hospitality of von Rutenberg Ventures. As Betty always said, “We’ll put sunshine in your smile and spring in your heart!”

—Bill, Jack and Robert von Rutenberg