Is a Sprecher's restaurant on tap for Milwaukee?
Kevin Lederer was looking for something different. The Madison-based real estate developer and restauranteur, who previously owned a Houlihan's restaurant franchise, says he "didn't like being tied to a chain." Instead, Lederer wanted to do a brew pub, but he also didn't want to do a full-blown brewery operation.
Enter Randy Sprecher of the Sprecher Brewing Company of Glendale. Lederer sold Sprecher on the idea of opening restaurants that would function like brew pubs, pairing the full line of Sprecher products with a whole new line of food.
Working directly with Jeff Hamilton and Randy Sprecher at the brewery, Lederer and his family entered a licensing agreement that allows them to use Sprecher logos and brands, and got to work transforming his three Houlihan's locations to Sprecher's. The three restaurants spread across south central Wisconsin, from Madison, 1262 John Q. Hammons Dr., to Lake Geneva, 111 Center St., and the newly opened Lake Delton location at 644 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy.
Sprecher's Restaurant employees receive trainings on the Sprecher line. "A craft beer is not just a beer and every style has its own flavor profile," according to Anne Sprecher, PR and Marketing director at the brewery. The entire staff was also put on busses and sent to Glendale in order to see the whole brewery operation.
Lederer says Sprecher products are "catching on like crazy in Madison" with sales doubling in the area during the past year. The big sellers at the Madison restaurant have been Fire Light and El Rey.
Lederer wants to keep things local, from the beer to the meat producers supplying the restaurants and has enjoyed working with Sprecher, a family-operated business like his own. Lederer's co-owners include his wife, Katy, and his in-laws, Felix and Kristin Richgels. The Lederers have two children ages four and seven and another on the way.
Lederer, who grew up in Middleton, got his start in the restaurant business at 13 as a bus boy at the Imperial Garden, a Chinese restaurant there. He got into real estate 15 years ago and back into restaurants with the three Houlihan's, which he operated for seven years.
The Sprecher's restaurants carry every Sprecher beer and soda product. There are 14 beers and four sodas on tap (and more available in bottles) and every four-to-six weeks a different tap is added to keep up with the seasonal beers.
The Madison Sprecher's opened in January 2010, and its 7,000 square-foot patio opened early last summer. Lederer spent $1 million renovating his old Houlihan's restaurant, repairing woodwork, replacing booths and installing hand-made wood bar menus displaying the names of all the Sprecher brews on tap.
The Madison patio is attractive and well-planned, with fire pits built into tables, a fountain and a fully-stocked, open-air bar in its center. Backed by a corn field, bands perform on the patio Thursday through Sunday. There is no cover to see the bands, which are predominately rock and funk and also include the interactive performances of the Swing Crew, a popular Wisconsin Dells / Breckinridge, Colo. band.
The first year Sprecher's was open they had a hard time booking bands. But this year, bands have been coming to them and they had the entire summer scheduled in March.
Sprecher's in Lake Geneva overlooks the lake and is connected to The Cove Resort hotel. Their delivery to select hotels nearby includes room service.
Lederer says the Madison and Lake Geneva restaurants are doing very well. There's a bit of an education component to the restaurants for people who are new to Sprecher beers and sodas. "But we've put (Sprecher) on the map here (in Madison)," Lederer says.
The Sprecher's in the Wisconsin Dells opened July 5, after a year of remodeling the former Houlihan's space. The restaurant currently delivers to the hotels in its immediate area on the strip and there are plans to extend delivery to the entire city beginning fall 2011.
Lederer and the Sprecher's managers have been busy developing cocktails for the restaurants using Sprecher soda. The most popular one for the team to work with so far has been the Orange Dream. "We'll probably have 10 different orange cocktails by the time we're done," says Lederer.
A Milwaukee site for a Sprecher's restaurant is a "no-brainer," says Lederer. He would also like to open a smaller-scale Sprecher's on State Street in downtown Madison, but these plans are not currently being developed.
For now, Lederer and Sprecher's general manager / partner Susan Getgen plan to focus on the concept and build the brand. "We already have people who want to franchise, but right now we want to keep it ours. We know what we're doing and what we want to see happen," says Lederer.
Some current plans include selling Sprecher beer and soda in retail packs at the restaurant doors, just like at the brewery store. A patio is being considered for the Dells location, as well as a possible "walk-thru" window selling root beer floats to all the water park goers.
Lederer would also like to see more charity events at Sprecher's and is working on plans to team up for events with other craft breweries in the area, including New Glarus and Capital, which is only a mile from Sprecher's Madison restaurant.
Sprecher's menu has gone through two major changes since the restaurants opened and include 80 items. Lederer says the plan is to continue changing the menu twice a year to keep up with seasonal products. Beer is infused in many of the food items, including Generation Porter in the rib sauce and Wisconsin Amber in the Margherita flatbread crust. Other Sprecher products are used, including their mustards, as dipping sauces with the pretzel appetizer.
Sprecher's restaurants receive Sprecher products from the brewery through distributors like all restaurants but also receives special products direct, usually at beer and food tastings hosted by brewery representatives.
Sprecher's is open for lunch and the Madison location has a weekend brunch menu, with fewer food items, but bottomless mimosas for $8 and Bloody Marys for $4 (think of all those possible Sprecher beer chasers to complement the Bloodys).
The restaurants also offer a membership. "Sprecher's Pub Club," members receive happy hour pricing all the time, 10 percent off their food and a free entree on birthdays.
I'd like to see Lakefront Brewery do something similar.
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