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Fateful fliers bring about a new venture PDF Print E-mail
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Written by John Morton   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:36

Tired of the corporate world and paying attention to some hints, Grafton’s Barb Robillard takes over a Fredonia tavern

Having just moved to Grafton to be near family, Barb Robillard decided to dabble a bit in bartending — “To fill the void,” she said.

It was while doing so at The Hutch that a series of events would lead her to a place of which she never dreamed.

“A patron left a flier on the bar, beneath the tip, and it had details about a bar for sale in Fredonia,” Robillard said. “I thought nothing of it. Then, it happened again. I thought, ‘Well this is really weird.’ And neither time did I see who had done it.”

barbs

Curious, Robillard and her husband, John, took a trip to take a look at a place at 504 Fredonia Ave. once called Fritz’s.

“It was dark and it was closed, but we knocked anyhow,” she said. “Sure enough, the owner was there and we took a tour.”

Then, while Robillard contemplated a purchase, what she thought was a meaningless peek at a local visitor’s guide sealed the deal.

“I see an ad for the bar and on the facing page I see an Ozaukee (Elementary) School photo of my granddaughter,” Robillard said. “Well, that’s when I knew it was meant to be.”

After being on the sales block just two weeks in January, the bar was hers. 

“We jumped at it,” she said. “Was it fate? Yes, to me it was.”

But the work was only about to begin.

Hoping to serve food and needing room to do so, Robillard decided to knock down a wall that led to an adjacent apartment.

“That was interesting,” said John Robillard, who spearheaded the expansion. “Dealing with a building of that age, you never know what you’re getting. I’ve had some people say it might go back to the turn of the (20th) century, but I’ll bet it’s at least 100 years old.

“Replacing that old plaster with new drywall was the first step, and then we discovered a bizarre cement floor that was impossible to get up. We had to floor over it.”

 But it resulted in 300 square feet of additional space, allowing for a longer bar and 20 more stools. Facing those seats will be an open grill, for what Barb Robillard said will be home to “classic pub food,” and behind it will be a staging area that will serve as a kitchen for those who want to host events.

It’s part of the culture she’s trying to build, contrary to the establishment’s former shot-and-a-beer approach.

“I want it to become a meeting place. I want people to bring in their food for Packers games — things like that,” she said. “I don’t have a pool table and I’m not open late. I want it to be friendly, bright, clean and safe.”

Keeping the adjoining porch intact, complete with its soft chairs and electric fireplace, is part of that.

“Yes, we want people to be comfortable,” Robillard said. “The porch is super relaxing.”

Bingo events there are now commonplace, and on Saturday she’s offering up her space, free of charge, for a third time to the local American Legion post for a brat fry, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It’s a great way to get the word out and to show off what we’ve done,” she said. “Every time, people ask ‘OK, what’s next?’”

The newest addition is a fryer, installed Monday, completing the grill operation. Food service will begin next week, with doors opening at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday (the business is closed Mondays). 

Now, Robillard’s former life seems far behind.

“I was in corporate America in Illinois for years, as an accountant and in customer service, and I felt so trapped,” she said. “When I tried bartending, I felt so free and things felt so open. I loved waiting on people, listening to their stories, and in return making them laugh. I felt alive.”

Still, breaking the news to her kids that she was now a bar owner got quite a reaction.

“Well, they were shocked. But now they love it,” Robillard said. “They could see me owning a business, but a tavern? No way.

“But neither could I, especially this late in the game. I’m 53 and never dreamed of something like this.”

Full of energy, she not only placed her name on the business, now known as Barb’s Pub & Grub, she is a constant presence.

“I want to put my stamp on the business with my personality,” she said. “I’m there every day we’re open and I can’t wait to cook for everyone. My burgers will be great, and just wait until you try my homemade burger and dipping sauces.”

And what kind of reaction does she hope to hear?

“I want people to say, ‘Wow. Now that’s a friendly place,’” she said.


Image Information: BARB’S PUB & GRUB in Fredonia is in the midst of an expansion that will result in 20 additional bar seats, a grill and a kitchen-like area where customers can host events. Business owner Barb Robillard bought the establishment in January. Previously, it was called Fritz’s. The space used to be home to an adjacent apartment. The business is located at 504 Fredonia Ave.Photos by Sam Arendt

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