Port restaurant hits the road in drive to expand

Owner of Yummy Bones plans to add food trucks, second location in Fond du Lac with help of revolving fund loan approved by city

YUMMY BONES OWNER Robert Meredith, pictured inside his downtown Port Washington restaurant, plans to expand his business by adding food trucks and a second location in Fond du Lac. All the food for his operation would be prepared at the Port Washington restaurant. Photos by Sam Arendt and Bill Schanen IV
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Robert Meredith said that since moving his Yummy Bones BBQ restaurant to its current location at the corner of Franklin and Main streets in downtown Port Washington, business has picked up immensely.

“I really feel like now I’m in business,” he said. “Now, it’s a restaurant. It’s a lot different business model.”

That model is changing again as Meredith prepares to open a second downtown storefront restaurant — this one in Fond du Lac — and purchase two food trucks.

“I’m excited,” Meredith said. “I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s starting to grow. It’s been four years of hard work, and there’s still a lot to do, but it’s coming together.”

The Port Washington Common Council, on the recommendation of the city’s Community Development Authority, last week approved a $111,700 revolving fund loan for the expansion project.

The loan, which will be used to fund the purchase of equipment and start-up costs, will carry an interest rate of 2.75% and a 10-year term.

In return for the loan, Yummy Bones agreed to create the equivalent of 3.5 full-time jobs in Port, hiring 51% of these employees from low to moderate-income households.

For Meredith, owning a restaurant has been a dream born at the feet of his grandmother.

His grandparents raised him on their farm in Dousman, and held huge holiday celebrations for friends and family for all occasions.

“As a little kid, I remember helping them set up,” he said. “My grandmother was always cooking something, and I was on her coattails.

“There were never any recipes. It was fun.”

Meredith got his start in the restaurant business at Rick’s Lighthouse Mobile on Port Washington’s north side, where he set up his grill in 2013, making pork shoulder, brats and burger, mac and cheese and other items.

Then he was invited to Greendale’s 75th anniversary celebration, where he cooked for four days. And Bernadette Ruckdashel hired him to cater the end-of-the-year customer appreciation dinner at Appy Orse Acres in the Town of Fredonia.

“That led to weddings and parties,” Meredith said, adding that he was doing all the cooking out of his house at that point.

In the fall of 2013, he contacted Randy Tetzlaff, Port’s director of planning and development, to see if he knew of a spot where he could run his catering business.

Several people contacted him, Meredith said, among them Gertjan van den Broek, and on Feb. 14, 2014, he opened his restaurant in the basement of Willie’s Lakefront Lanes on Main Street.

The location provided little visibility, but Meredith said his business grew.

“There were some trying times,” he said. “We had a couple floods, some other issues.”

But he persevered, and with the help of van den Broek, who’s not just his landlord but also an investor in the business, moved to his current location in June 2016.

“Gertjan saw something in me,” Meredith said. “If it hadn’t been for him, I think it would have been difficult to stay over there.”

The new location has been a godsend, he added.

“I can’t even tell you what a difference it’s made,” Meredith said.

This past winter has been his best winter, he said, noting he had a number of catering jobs for large manufacturing businesses and weddings.

About a month ago, he said, a couple from Nashville stopped in after someone on their plane recommended Yummy Bones to them.

“They told me they really enjoyed themselves,” Meredith said. “They said they would rate us in the top five with places in Nashville.”

That’s a common reaction, he said.

“I get goosebumps thinking about some of the things people say,” Meredith said. “Those are the things that keep me driven.”

His decision to move into the Fond du Lac market was made at the behest of a customer, he said.

“He said he really enjoyed the food and wanted to be part of it,” Meredith said, adding the customer will now help manage the location. He plans to open there in the next couple months.

Meredith said he plans to have the first of his food trucks on the road at the start of summer and, depending on how that goes, the second on line by the end of the season.

The trucks will allow him to test other markets where he could potentially open a restaurant and have a presence at various festivals throughout the area. It could also come in handy for his catering, he said.

“I’ve missed out on a couple weddings last year because they were looking for a food truck,” he said.

All these other endeavors will help him grow the core of his business in Port Washington, Meredith said. That’s because all the food sold in the trucks and at the Fond du Lac storefront will be prepared in Port and transferred elsewhere.

“This will be our commissary,” he said, noting there is equipment available that allows him to transfer food without any loss of quality.

“If I can make it here and ship it and have it taste the same, I’ll save a ton of money,” he said. “I do that now with catering. It works out very well.”

His ultimate goal, he said, is to have a number of locations, creating a legacy for his children.

“Maybe even sponsor a NASCAR car,” he said, laughing. “I just want to have a good life. I want to be able to have fun.”

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