We decided wine knot sit down for this exclusive interview w/ Wine Knot’s Executive Chef & General Manager Brian Haberski…
Q. What inspired you to go to culinary school and become a chef?
Chef Brian: I was in my senior year at Xavier University in Cincinnati when I decided to go into culinary. I was the pickiest eater when I was a kid. Once I went to college and became a starving college student I began to realize I liked a lot of different foods. I started cooking all the time and trying anything I could get my hands on. I decided I want to have a go at it and not let it be something I would regret not trying later in life. I graduated from college and in 3 weeks I was in culinary school.
Q. Wine Knot is Kenosha’s original and first wine bar, how did you get your start there?
Chef Brian: I kind of fell into the job. I had just been laid off from Hyatt in Milwaukee. My wife had just started bartending at Wine Knot. One night I helped out for an event and the original chef said he was starting his own business and that he would recommend me to take his job. The rest is history
Q. Your current roles at Wine Knot are Executive Chef and General Manager, how do you balance both the positions?
Chef Brian: The short answer is.. ‘I don’t!’ I am reliant on my fellow employees and their excellent performance. I’ve been fortunate to have great employees over the years that have made my job easier; they all the ability to solve any problems they encounter.
Q. Can you describe a typical day or week for you at Wine Knot??
Chef Brian: There is no real typical day. Some days I’m the handyman, some Days I’m the accountant, other days I’m sweeping. I’m in the kitchen, I’m planting flowers. Lots of hats.
Q. Wine Knot serves American bistro food with a international flavor, can describe that to our readers?
Chef Brian: You can get a slice of meatloaf or an Asian-inspired dish. We have staples on the menu but I usually just put on the menu the things I like to eat at that time.
Q. Wine Knot was one of the first upper tier restaurants in Downtown Kenosha and has stuck through the ups and downs of the area, besides longevity, what do you think is the key to Wine Knot’s success?
Chef Brian: I would argue that Mangia laid that foundation, but we have definitely build up on it. I think our success comes from starting small and constantly trying to make improvements. We look nothing like we did 17 years ago. Sound financial decisions on slow steady growth is why we are still around.
Q. How often do you change up the menu?
Chef Brian: I change the menu twice per year.
Q. You offer a smaller size menu than most restaurants, why is that?
Chef Brian: Restaurants with big menus creep me out. There is no way everything is selling evenly and they are going through that product. I like a small menu. It is a small menu but I have beef, pork, duck, seafood and lamb. This is more of a variety than most restaurants. So although I only have about eight entrees I would argue we have a great variety for only eight items.
Q. How many different wines do you offer?
Chef Brian: Right now we offer just over 50 wines.
Q. How do you decide what wines to carry?
Chef Brian: It may sound crazy but I just carry the ones I like. I get to try many different wines and I guess if your palate is like mine you will be pretty happy with the selection.
Q. What your favorite wine and food pairing at Wine Knot?
Chef Brian: I think the halibut and the Albariño is a perfect combination
Q. What are some of the differences today at Wine Knot compared to when you first started?
Chef Brian: The downtown. It gets better every year.
Q. What is your speciality item at your restaurant?
Chef Brian: That’s a tough one. Most people would say halibut or meatloaf but actually filet, salmon and the burger are right up there in sales near the top.
Q. Where does the inspiration for the menu come from?
Chef Brian: My life experiences shape the menu – I love to travel and eat everywhere I go.
Q. Wine Knot is now known for serving some of the best meatloaf in the area, how did you master the recipe and how does it make you feel that so many people praise it?
Chef Brian: It’s funny. The meatloaf started as a joke; all before comfort food was in style. I put it on the menu to see the response from our customers, I wanted to hear if they would admit if it was better than their wives or mothers. I never thought it would be a permanent item.
Q. What makes Wine Knot stand out all the other restaurants?
Chef Brian: I think we do a pretty good job of being consistent. That is really one of the hardest things to achieve for a restaurant and I think that is what has kept us going.
Q. During COVID, Wine Knot adapted and created some interesting winter outdoor seating, are you planning on bringing that back this season?
Chef Brian: Our outdoor dining is open year round. We have outdoor heaters and our gazebos will open up in November. Surprisingly, they get too hot to open earlier.
Q. What do you love about working in Downtown Kenosha?
Chef Brian: I don’t just work here, but I am also a resident! I have lived in the HarborPark condos for about ten years. Downtown has an amazing entertainment scene and I love seeing it grow.
Q. What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Chef Brian: Eating! I love going out to dinner.
Q. The rumor that won’t go away is that Wine Knot will someday expand to a bigger dining area, do you see that in the future?
Chef Brian: That is always a thought, but have you seen the size of our kitchen? We can only put out so much food.
Q&A by Donny StancatoEdited by Jason Hedman
Photos by Donny Stancato & Visit Kenosha
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(This article first appeared in the winter 2022 Downtown Kenosha Magazine)