An exclusive interview with Grease & Honey co-owner Paul Campagna.
This story originally appeared in the Downtown Kenosha Magazine, Vol.13 issue 1. 2020
Once home to Isermann Bros. Department Store, the first and finest of its kind when it openend in 1895, the Apis Hotel & Restaurant, 614 56th Street, will now occupy this grand building with a fresh, mid-century modern flair. The Apis Hotel & Restaurant is part of the Grease & Honey Restaurant Family, a locally owned and operated group of restaurants in Kenosha. Co-owner of Grease & Honey, Paul Campagna, sat down with Downtown Kenosha Magazine to deliver all the info on their newest restaurant.
What inspired your company and the name Grease & Honey? That came from my fiancé, Kristine. We always put in the ‘grease’ – the hard work – and from it comes the sweet success, the ‘honey.’ With our other restaurants, Sazzy B and The Buzz, we have that bee and honey theme. Then we have The Garage, which invokes a working-man essence: cars and grease. It sounded perfect, we loved it, and we had our name.
Can you walk us through a typical day in your life? I wake up about 6 – 6:30, and do the normal routines: taking care of the dogs, reading the paper. I try to head Downtown by 9 am and I am swamped with meetings and answering questions, fixing small problems. With the construction of our new venue – The Apis, I keep busy all day.
Where did you find inspiration for the concepts for your establishments? We do our research. First and foremost, we try to find what is missing in our neighborhood. Once we establish what we think it needs, then we look into possible locations which will reflect our vision. We go to multiple locations all about town to find that perfect place.
Three of your four Kenosha businesses are Downtown, what is it that you love about Downtown Kenosha? I have lived in Kenosha my whole life, and I am a sucker for old buildings. Good or bad, I just love the history behind it. We live in an old house, and I really appreciate that character that so much of our Downtown architecture has.
What has made you and your team so successful? For us, this is not a side gig, we have put our whole life into this – it is our livelihood. And although we don’t ask our employees to devote their lives to their job, we think that our passion and positivity reflects onto our staff. I think that makes us successful.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is looking at a career in the restaurant field? Think twice before you take that step. I have done less work for a whole lot more money in my life! It is a tricky business – you really have to want it, and don’t expect to get rich from it.
What made you and your team decide to buy the old Isermann building and turn it into the Apis Hotel & Restaurant? We have had our eye on this building for quite some time. We were originally just looking for another restaurant. But as we were looking at the layout of this building, especially on the second floor, it made sense to turn this into a hotel. These rooms on the second floor, although they have been used as a warehouse for decades, you could see that they were offices at one time. We felt it was another exploration and adventure for us to look into the hotel business.
Who’s the mastermind behind your fabulous menus? That would be our Executive Chef, Danielle Weybright. She has a great chef-mind – she knows just how to put flavors together – she’s wonderful. As our Executive Chef, she oversees all the locations, but she will be working the line here at Apis.
Do you have much input on your food menu? I am having less and less input. In the beginning, we had to come up with ideas. But with such a fabulous staff, it has become so much easier. They bring their delicious ideas to us.
Will you have vegan/vegetarian options on your menu Apis? Always. Yes, we are proud to have many vegan and vegetarian options at all of our restaurants.
What kind of food will be on the menu? With Apis, we are letting Danielle open her wings a bit more. We encourage her to get a bit “out there,” to bring some new items. We are going to try to do much smaller portions. With this, a person will order 2 or 3 items off our menu, they might be more inclined to take a chance on something different and “out there.”
What will the drink menu be like? Sazzy B will always be our focus for great cocktails. If you haven’t had a drink at Sazzy B, I strongly encourage you do so. At Apis, we are going to do things differently. We will have our signature cocktails and an eclectic wine list. But we plan on having a food menu that changes with the seasons, if not more frequently. We will be offering cocktail and wine pairings that are derivative from the menu.
Tell us about the open kitchen concept at the Apis. If you have not been to one, they are quite entertaining. Our customers will be able to watch the whole kitchen line prepare your food. There will be a lot of activity – it’s a very cool concept and we are looking forward for you to see it.
You have a fantastic food at all your establishments, do you have a personal favorite item? Depends on the restaurant. If I am at The Garage, it’s the Bronco Burger. If I am at The Buzz for breakfast, I’ll have the Cali Baja wrap. At Sazzy B, the menu changes four times a year, and I have a few go-to’s, but I can’t pick out just one favorite.
What is going to make the Apis Hotel & Restaurant stand out from other bars/restaurants/hotels? Between Milwaukee and Chicago, you will not find a place like this. We try to be unique, and successful or not, we think we are unique.
The rumor is that there will be a speakeasy in the basement? Our basement lounge will have a little bit of a ‘speakeasy’ theme. The downstairs is very dark… you will just have to wait and see. I don’t want to give everything away before you walk in.
We also hear there will be a bar on the roof? It’s quite large, at 3000 sq. feet, we can hold up to 150 people. So, it would be great for parties, wedding receptions, business meetings. It’s a fantastic view.
Were there any interesting items left behind when you moved in? Everything was left behind. We had an estate sale with all the items. 15,000 square feet of stuff! We found old patterns from when people made their own clothes; a ton of records, mostly Greek; record players; thousands and thousands of beads. It was crazy.
What’s next for the Grease & Honey team? Any plans for a fifth establishment? Like I tell my staff – I’m not dead yet! As much as we will take a well-deserved break after getting the Apis up and running, the wheels are always turning.
Interview and photos by Donny Stancato