When the opulent, sprawling Rare Steakhouse opened on the Capitol Square last year, boasting three miles of mahogany trim and a three-thousand-bottle, temperature-controlled, custom-built wine cellar, it was easy to assume that an out-of-town corporate ownership group—maybe a bunch of fat cats in suits, probably from Chicago—had descended to gobble up a piece of Madison’s rich and eclectic food scene.
“We met bartending in our college years,” says Jack Sosnowski as he watches his wife Julie distribute French fries one at a time to their son in his stroller. Julie is pregnant with their second child, and the couple’s Noble Chef Hospitality Group is expecting again as well: Freiburg, a German gastropub due any day now on Monroe Street. It’s the fifth homegrown venture for the Sosnowskis, both Madison natives in their mid-thirties who say they clocked eighty-hour weeks for years to start the Ivory Room Piano Bar in 2006, followed by Capital Tap Haus, Buck & Badger Northwoods Lodge and their “flagship restaurant” (with the help of a handful of Madison investors) Rare. They now employ a team of seventy people and a high retention rate, because it’s easier to work hard for people you know are working hard for you.
“We were able to pretty much live on tips and pay our debt down, so it’s kind of an American dream story,” says Jack. “We started by ourselves with little or no money and built it from there.”
When a developer approached the Sosnowskis with the opportunity to break in to the food-savvy, foot-traffic-heavy, iconic Monroe Street neighborhood, they hesitated at first—but ultimately couldn’t pass it up. Jack flew to Germany to eat and drink throughout the regions, sending notes and photos home to Julie, who was on maternity leave with their first child; she designs all of the restaurant interiors herself. The fare at Freiburg, served up by chef Christian Behr, formerly of Avenue Bar and the Old Fashioned, will focus on light but savory smaller-plate traditional German staples. The dishes will be bolstered by thirty draught beer lines, most of them German imports. Ultimately, the Sosnowskis hope to create a cozy, family-friendly pub that fills a niche on Monroe Street and adds something distinctive to Madison’s sophisticated culinary groove.
“We just want a great neighborhood place,” says Jack, adding that he can’t imagine doing anything else. Julie, who grew up in the restaurant business, nods; it’s all she’s ever known. Glancing over at their son in the stroller, the thought crosses their minds at the same time, and Jack laughs.
“They’ll be washing dishes before we know it, right?”
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