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BizCast 61 Walts Restaurant and Tavern in Bangor with Katie Walters, Shawn McManus

BizCast 61 Walts Diner in Bangor with Katie Walters, Shawn McManus

Episode 60

Katie Walters, Shawn McManus bring ethnic inspired food to Bangor at Walt’s Restaurant and Diner

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between WIZMNews.com and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( GreaterLaCrosse.media ).

Summary

Katie Walters co-owner of Walt’s Restaurant and Tavern in Bangor with her husband, Ryan talks about launching their new menu June 1 to compliment their expanded their craft beer selection, wine selection, and cocktail offerings. She also mentions the balance between traditional Wisconsin menu items and new, elevated dishes. Shawn McManus, a consultant, helped in updating the menu to match their vision and target demographic. The podcast discusses attracting a diverse customer base and creating a unique dining experience. Additionally, there is a focus on the importance of the menu in making the restaurant a destination.

Full Transcript [generated by AI]

[00:00:00] Katie Walters: We have a five year plan to hopefully an update, that space. We would like to make Bangor even more of a destination. Ah, we could have events up there. We could have stand up comedians. We could have live music. We really are looking to expand our business 

[00:00:22] Vicki Markussen: Welcome to BizCast, Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from BizNews. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen, and joining me today is a new restaurant owner, Katie Walter. She is co owner of Walt’s Restaurant and Tavern in Bangor, and then we also have Sean McManus with Savory Creations because he is helping with the restaurant, which we’ll talk about.

[00:00:45] Vicki Markussen: BizCast. Katie, how is it that you became a restaurant owner? 

[00:00:51] Katie Walters: I have to say I married into the field. My husband, Ryan Walters has owned Augie’s in Bangor for 14 years. Restaurant ownership is in his blood. His parents owned the Hayfield restaurant, which is now the Berry Diner. His grandparents owned the Stello’s.

[00:01:08] Katie Walters: Nick’s Bar in Berry Mills. It’s just been passed down generationally. We met at Augie’s. I worked for him when I first moved to Wisconsin. And last year when the restaurant next door came for sale Ryan bought it. Initially to Weed out the competition . But it’s really transformed itself into a local elevated supper club in Bangor.

[00:01:36] Katie Walters: There’s not a lot in the Bangor West Salem area. A place to sit down and have that supper club experience, but also have that elevated, nicer cocktails, some more ethnic, different foods. So it’s something that we provide that we’re really proud of. 

[00:01:51] Speaker: And that was, what, six months ago that you purchased, you both purchased that restaurant?

[00:01:56] Speaker 2: That we went live at the end of October of 2023. And so I guess it’s more than six months at this point. The months all blur together. That’s 

[00:02:04] Speaker: okay. It’s two months. still considered new, right? 

[00:02:06] Speaker 2: Yes. 

[00:02:07] Speaker: And this, from what you were saying, it doesn’t sound like where you are now was the initial path that you thought you were going to be on for the restaurant.

[00:02:15] Speaker 2: No, we actually weren’t sure being in Bangor. Not that any town is a monolith, but you look at the restaurants and the bars in the area. There is a certain style of food and drink that you see. And. Our initial bar offering and food menu was more of that stereotypical meat and potatoes, rural America, food and drink which is great and we have a lot of guests who love that.

[00:02:41] Speaker 2: I came on a few months into the restaurant and with the bar being my experience, the bar being my baby, and we really expanded our craft beer selection, our wine selection a lot of throwback prohibition cocktails. We make our own simple syrups, we have lavender ginger, honey and we weren’t really sure what the people of Bangor or surrounding areas would want.

[00:03:04] Speaker 2: We were pleasantly surprised that we had people coming in willing to be experimental with what they’re drinking, willing to maybe spend a little more money. Then you might be spending in surrounding bars in Bangor. And we decided that food wise our meat and potatoes offerings are delicious, but we wanted that elevated experience in our food as well.

[00:03:23] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And so enter in Shawn McManus, who obviously does consulting with the owner of being the owner of Savory Creations. Before we really talk about what you’re doing, Shawn one thing that I find interesting in how you just told that story, Katie, is you essentially had a restaurant that was competing with your own business, and you now found a way to make it unique.

[00:03:47] Vicki Markussen: So now you’re capturing, ideally, an additional market out there, rather, so you don’t have You’re welcome. business restaurants anymore. Yeah, very smart. What is it that had you bring in, Sean? 

[00:03:59] Katie Walters: So we had decided bar wise that we wanted to be constantly changing and evolving our offerings. Seasonal, quarterly.

[00:04:07] Katie Walters: And then on the food side, we. We hadn’t changed our menu in that first 6 months. Like I said before we wanted more of an elevated content to our menu. My family is Greek, so I grew up eating ethnic food, we lived in many major cities so just ethnic foods are something that we had. And there’s not a lot of that in this area. 

[00:04:32] Katie Walters: We have some mutual friends of Sean’s which caused me to look at his Facebook page. I was really wowed by the pictures that I’d seen and talking to people that had eaten his food. And that’s exactly what we were looking for, is to bring some ethnicity and diversity to the table. To our menu, but to the area at large.

[00:04:50] Vicki Markussen: Shawn, you walk into a restaurant that had been owned by prior owners, has been around for a while, and and Katie is obviously looking to change some things up. How do you Start looking at how much can you change? How much is too much change for that area? Talk through what was involved in changing the menu for this place.

[00:05:12] Katie Walters: It was it was, I was pleasantly surprised that I knew her lead cook already. And so I was like, awesome. So now I’m able to, we’re able to bounce ideas. But Katie’s vision and updating that menu was that starting point. Now, where’s our vision? What are we thinking?

[00:05:31] Katie Walters: Flavor profiles ethnicities what’s our target demographic? And so getting those basics down just to. Can I answer the question of what’s our objective? Who are we and who do we want to be? And looking at it from like that one year standpoint. And then when do we want to start this?

[00:05:51] Katie Walters: So really down to the basics before we even started even discussing food, just where what was what the concept is actually going to be. 

[00:05:59] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And Katie, you also don’t want to change too much, I’m guessing, because you don’t want to lose some of that customer base. And so how are you balancing how much will be new and how much will be Let’s just call it traditional Wisconsin menu.

[00:06:13] Katie Walters: It’s interesting. Initially, when I had come on to work in the restaurant having lived, again, like I said, in many major cities, I had initially told my husband, I’m not the target demographic for this restaurant. And I was wrong when I said that. We are straddling this line of, again, the more traditional, stereotypical small town Wisconsin, but, and I joke because I’m not a local, but people travel to Bangor to eat our food and drink from La Crosse, from Holman, from Onalaska, from Tomah, from Sparta, and so we are, we’ve really expanded our guest base to where I am the target demo, and so is the local 70 year old that has never moved outside of the confines of Bangor.

[00:07:03] Katie Walters: So we really have. Two distinct demographics to hit. And I’ve also It’s been interesting and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see there’s a lot of crossover between, like I said before, there’s not a monolith to any area. So you can come in and get a bacon cheeseburger, which I love a good bacon cheeseburger.

[00:07:24] Katie Walters: I also love, we have a lavender empress cocktail that has egg whites. We make our own lavender simple syrup and we use a violet empress gin. We are straddling this line, and it’s just been so interesting to see. who our target demographic is. And it’s really everybody. 

[00:07:41] Speaker 4: Yeah. 

[00:07:42] Katie Walters: And it really expands what we can realistically and what we should be realistically offering to our guests.

[00:07:49] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And it’s interesting too, and Sean, maybe you can speak to this of How much can a menu cause a place to be a destination? It seems like it’s already started for the drinks, and now you can make the food menu correspond? 

[00:08:05] Katie Walters: Absolutely. And I think a lot of it starts at the front door.

[00:08:09] Katie Walters: This, the aesthetic, and the parking, and that experience. Just getting into the door, and that’s, The first thing I noticed when I walked into Wal, it has this contemporary warm comfort type feel. And then I really large bar, that quintessential Wisconsin sort of wrapping bar. Type feel. But then I saw the salad bar and I was like I’m getting contemporary now. I’m getting supper club. Great feel and comfort and what can we do with the food at this point to really capitalize on that whole entire. Idea that experience, and when Katie said we might be looking at different ethnicities and foods and things like that, honestly, you could have one thing that’s gonna bring me back.

[00:08:54] Katie Walters: And I know other folks maybe it’s a stone fire pizza or maybe it’s these ribs that were deep fried and tempura batter, and that could really put you on the map. So right now, I think having a good variety of different things that I guess that opens up those doors to those folks that like that.

[00:09:14] Katie Walters: Vicki Markussen, BizCast, Greater La Crosse, La Crosse, Vicki, Markussen, Vicki, Markussen, Vicki Markussen, BizCast, Greater La Crosse, La Crosse, La Crosse, La Crosse, La Crosse, 

[00:10:00] Vicki Markussen: For both of you, what does it look like? What is the process of creating a menu? Like you said, Katie, you were telling me about taste testing.

[00:10:09] Vicki Markussen: And so how do you figure out let’s think about this. And then you take it to her. What does that process look like? 

[00:10:15] Shawn McManus: I usually jump the gun right away. If we don’t have a concept menu already in place and we’re going to redo something or just omit that and start new, I just bring a bunch of ideas to the table. In Katie’s defense, she didn’t know I was coming to the house with all the food, meaning in the restaurant and did it just a tasting. I think we did six different items. We did a banh mi sandwich we did a cold smoked salmon salad over toasted orzo Mediterranean salad there.

[00:10:47] Shawn McManus: Just touching on different things through that menu. Mm hmm. As ideas, not as, this may be the dish. It just so happens that the ribs really stood out, so that’s something that perhaps we’re contemplating on Katie maybe putting on the menu. We’re waiting back and bringing that vision together on the food.

[00:11:06] Shawn McManus: marketing, trusted food, we have multiple taste test things that we have set up, and we’re involving everybody including the staff, back of the house chefs, all ownership and whoever is supporting the business, to get that nice feedbacks on that menu. And I love that Katie’s actually opened the door to everybody to do that.

[00:11:24] Katie Walters: Fantastic. And on my end, I have sent over recipes that I grew up eating, and we’re going to taste test those. I’ve done some good old fashioned googling and found things that look interesting, and we’re going to take that from the internet and put it in the kitchen and see if it does materialize. 

[00:11:42] Katie Walters: And some things I was with Sean it’s great because I’m able to say, I want something In the Indian realm, 

[00:11:51] Speaker 4: maybe 

[00:11:51] Katie Walters: that’s cardamom heavy or curries. And then I can give him just those base ideas. And then this is why he gets paid the big bucks. He can take those things and then he can whip them up into two or three different options.

[00:12:04] Katie Walters: And we say, Oh, this one is we don’t care for it. This one is wonderful. This one’s going to go on the menu. So for me as the business owner, it’s nice because I’m able to share my recipes, but then again, just give him ideas in the vein of dot, dot, dot. And then he can as we get to know each other, he can read my mind a little bit more.

[00:12:27] Katie Walters: Like when he came in and he, I told him I was Greek. I love Mediterranean. He put a great tabbouleh salad together that Greek orzo salad. It’s really been a great partnership where we can just bounce ideas off each other. 

[00:12:40] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And you were saying Before we hit record here that you are also trying to use some local food sources.

[00:12:47] Vicki Markussen: So how have you found those or what are you using? 

[00:12:51] Katie Walters: So just locally speaking, I mean we try to use local in all areas of our restaurant. So Creamery Creek, they are out of Bangor. We have had some of their meat on our menu. Little Creek Ranch and so on. Sparta. They are great guests. They’re fun people.

[00:13:08] Katie Walters: They come in and we have been taste test, taste testing some of their meats. So anywhere we can, we want to highlight local even in our events. So we do sip and paints. Katie Meyer from the Art Room in Bangor that she just started that business. We’ve had three wildly successful sip and paints.

[00:13:27] Katie Walters: in the last three months. So we really want to collaborate with Crimson and Clover Floral. They’ve helped us out during events. We’re talking to them about edible flowers for garnishes for our bar. So when we can we really do want to employ local. 

[00:13:43] Vicki Markussen: That’s fantastic. And as long as we’re talking about local, it sounds to not just are you having a culinary experience for people, you want them coming in and sipping and painting, and you want to provide some experiences around the restaurant as well?

[00:13:58] Katie Walters: We do. We want to be a destination, first and foremost, for our food and drink. But as I joke with many of our guests I have a four and a two year old, and they get to, Go on playdates and go to baseball practice and join clubs and as an adult you don’t get to do that anymore.

[00:14:14] Katie Walters: So we want to provide experiences like a sip and paint. We collaborated with she calls herself the macrame mama of Wisconsin. So we had we made some wall hangers for her. For Mother’s Day we have Lakefront Brewery coming in to do a tap takeover. We have talked about maybe doing a mocktail class maybe partnering with people in our kitchen to do some sort of teaching a cooking and appetizer, something like that.

[00:14:42] Katie Walters: We wanna provide experiences. For the adults in the area, because again, there’s just not much going on once you, you hit your 30s, 40s, 50s. 

[00:14:51] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. It’s a whole different experience. You don’t value the alcohol as much as you do the food. 

[00:14:57] Katie Walters: And we don’t we don’t want everything to revolve around alcohol.

[00:15:01] Katie Walters: We also pride ourselves on, we have a fairly extensive de alcoholized wine menu, mocktails, NA beers. Because many people, for a variety of reasons, don’t drink, don’t feel like drinking that day want to intersperse an alcoholic cocktail with an N. A. cocktail. So we, I guess we’re really trying to be as much as we can, everything to everybody, but We want to do it well.

[00:15:29] Katie Walters: We want to provide an experience for all different kinds of people in the area. Because again, my husband has lived in, his family’s lived in the same 10 square miles for generations. I have lived in 10 different states. We’re two totally different people, but we love this restaurant and we want to provide experiences for a wide array of people in the area.

[00:15:51] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And talk to a little bit, because I know how much people just love to know the inner. behind restaurants which is these are tough times with inflation and what it’s done to food prices. And so like your husband’s restaurant, it’s he knows his menu. He knows his costs. Now you’re starting to experiment.

[00:16:11] Vicki Markussen: So how much is food costs playing into menus and how much should it play into menus? 

[00:16:18] Katie Walters: Yeah. Huge. Definitely. Everything’s new starting that new menu, including your par levels on your production. And your waste and your overhead are these part of that bottom dollar. And looking at that food cost percentage that’s gonna be our next steps moving into this new menu, is let’s get the tasting, the presentation, the pictures, get that vision portion done, and then go into the actual amounts for a single serving.

[00:16:46] Katie Walters: per plate and then look at our production level then and setting our production rather being on a rotating basis of seven day or five day and then looking at what that cost is on that production, what that shelf life is on that hold to avoid the waste and not really using a lot of freezers for that.

[00:17:06] Katie Walters: So we’re not freezing and then pulling. We’re trying to do fresh. So we’re on top fresh. So if we have a Four day par level on certain items. Then it’s gonna be fresh again that next following four days. So we always keeping that in mind. And then space and storage as well. So that’ll be the next steps after the tasting.

[00:17:24] Vicki Markussen: I always wonder, and maybe this is. Never talked about, but is there, as part of the, well I’ll just call it like the life cycle of a product, right? So maybe it’s a piece of meat. And then to say, okay, and when it starts to get to this age, we’re going to turn it into this soup for the day. That is there that repurposing, if you will, as some of Starts to say, we have a lot of this, so why don’t we make this as the secondary menu item?

[00:17:49] Vicki Markussen: Does that happen? Yeah. Oh 

[00:17:50] Katie Walters: absolutely. Okay. Between that and the cross utilization of the products, yeah. Those are the two biggest things I think for success in a new menu design is that cross utilization and then also. I wouldn’t say old products being used in the new things, but you’re always going to have a little bit extra of something.

[00:18:10] Katie Walters: What can we feature or how can that be molded into something? And then what’s that shelf life? Cause it’s not like it really starts over. So you’re keeping that in mind, but yeah, less waste is best. 

[00:18:21] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Fantastic. So one thing, Katie, that you were talking about as well, just to add another layer to your new business is that this isn’t a.

[00:18:30] Vicki Markussen: So historic building. Can you talk about that? 

[00:18:33] Katie Walters: Yes we are in a historic building that used to be, so we have an upstairs and it used to be an old playhouse. They showed silent movies there. If you go upstairs, it’s really interesting. You see signatures from people from the 1920s. So it’s this gorgeous space I say gorgeous, but it’s been run down for a while the windows are all boarded up, but you can just imagine if if we were to replace all of that and make it an event space, it would be wonderful.

[00:19:04] Katie Walters: We’ve been in talks with the Historical Society of Wisconsin. We have a five year plan to hopefully an update, that space. We would like to make Bangor even more of a destination. Ah, we could have events up there. We could have stand up comedians. We could have live music. We really are looking to expand our business as much as we can again, to provide that

[00:19:35] Vicki Markussen: It’s funny because what comes to mind, so I sort of grew up in the Milwaukee area, and I think of the Fireside Theater that’s there, and it’s the dining and the theater experience together. And you would have that in Bangor, which is pretty, pretty cool. Interesting. Yeah. So good for you for being aspirational that way.

[00:19:52] Vicki Markussen: And let’s not forget too, because we are in that season of outdoor dining and that is an option there as well. You added that. 

[00:19:59] Katie Walters: Yes. So I have to say my baby, my obsession for the last two months has been our patio. We have a very nice. outdoor space that is surrounded by chain link fence with a great view of our dumpsters.

[00:20:13] Katie Walters: I, another local plug, I have to say Melport Meadows in Cashton. Lisa and Larry Anderson have been amazing with me. We have planted climbing roses, wisteria, honeysuckle, clematis. So we have large aggressive flowering vines. that are growing currently on our fence, and by the end of the summer, we’re hoping we’ll really have taken over the entire fence, so it’s not only going to bring beauty to the area, it’s going to bring shade probably some unwanted pests, but birds so it’s really a lovely area out there and with this Elevation.

[00:20:53] Katie Walters: We have now doubled our dining space. So we have Sean coming in and helping us work on the logistics of pumping out double the amount of food that we have been just a month ago. So 

[00:21:05] Vicki Markussen: that’s a great point. And maybe Sean, you can talk to that too, of, so this isn’t as easy as just adding it.

[00:21:11] Vicki Markussen: Patio because you essentially have the same kitchen size. So what kind of challenge does that present and how do you help restaurants work through that doubling of service out of one out of the remaining kitchen? 

[00:21:23] Katie Walters: Yeah, the current kitchen lead has already brought in some suggestions to already start making moves on how can we be more efficient?

[00:21:33] Katie Walters: I believe we’re going to be bringing in a new flat top. We convection double door. To be able to pump that food out at that get that hot quality food out at the numbers that we’re looking at now that we’ve doubled the space in terms of occupancy, what can we do in the kitchen now to make it more efficient to be able to do so?

[00:21:55] Katie Walters: So some of those changes are in place now and we’re going to continue to look at that as we get through the tasting and how smooth and flow of food and that’s basically where we’re at with that. 

[00:22:05] Shawn McManus: What’s the goal deadline for the launch? 

[00:22:08] Katie Walters: June 1st. That’s coming up. Yep, we will have our new menu and our new drink menu. 

[00:22:14] Katie Walters: And this is going to be a long term collaboration with Sean. Like I said before, quarterly, we want to be updating seasonally our food and our drink. We will be relying on Sean to help us update this menu again every three or four months so that we can be constantly providing new and different options to the area.

[00:22:33] Vicki Markussen: You’re making a significant investment. Kudos to you for doing it and I’m sure Bangor will be much better as a result. So that gets to my common closer question and Sean got to answer this in a different podcast, but what makes you passionate about doing this? 

[00:22:49] Katie Walters: For me, this is my family business. I started as basically just a Band Aid coming in to help.

[00:22:56] Katie Walters: I didn’t think that I would be staying at the restaurant. I’ve been working in restaurants for years but social advocacy is one of my big passions. I’m able to do that in other ways but I’m very proud that our restaurant once a month we donate 10 percent of our sales to local organizations.

[00:23:15] Katie Walters: So I’m trying to find a way. to infuse my social passion with our family business. This is the business that’s going to put my kids through college, that’s going to pay our mortgage, and I’m proud to be working alongside my husband in really realizing that dream. 

[00:23:36] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic. Yeah. And you had mentioned the 10 percent going to local organizations that you’ve hosted are given baskets and all kinds of amazing things, which shows that you’re passionate about giving.

[00:23:48] Vicki Markussen: And a lot of times I always like to remind listeners too, that a lot of times for small businesses, Their business is their retirement plan. So to your point, this is your retirement. This is your kid’s education. This is your retirement. And that is why people should do business locally, right? Because that’s how we help our friends and neighbors.

[00:24:06] Thank you. You have been listening to Katie Walters. She is the new owner with her husband of Walt’s Restaurant and Tavern in Bangor. And her consultant is Sean McManus with Savory Creations. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. We’ll catch you next week.

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