Owners of Wicked Grille make the move from Sheboygan to former Starters building in Port for more space, features like bar, high ceilings
Downtown Port Washington is about to get another restaurant.
The Wicked Grille moved from Sheboygan to 219 N. Franklin St., the site of the former Starters Restaurant.
The Common Council last week approved a liquor license for the business, which is run by Ashley Whitacre and Robert Holmes.
The Wicked Grille is currently operating inside Hops Haven, a Sheboygan bar.
The two businesses shared space with 3 Sheeps Brewing Co., which took over space once occupied — ironically enough — by Port Washington Brewing Co., which began in the former Smith Bros. Restaurant in downtown Port.
But that connection with Port isn’t the reason the Wicked Grille is moving to the city.
“We wanted our own place where we could do food and alcohol,” Whitacre said.
The couple started Wicked Grille in September 2014 strictly as a restaurant.
It was a change in careers for the couple. Holmes, who hails from Indiana, retired from the U.S. Army in 2012 and moved to Sheboygan, where he worked in radio sales. Whitacre, who’s from Michigan, came to Sheboygan to take culinary classes at Lakeshore Technical College, was working as a phlebotomist.
“We were at a point in our jobs where we just weren’t happy,” Whitacre said, so they took the plunge into the competitive restaurant business.
Hops Haven didn’t have any food service at the time, so the couple worked to fill the need.
They specialized in “American gastro-pub food, good comfort food,” Holmes said.
They’re known for their specialty burgers, he said. During their first year, they offered a burger of the month, then took the top burgers and placed them on their permanent menu.
Although they enjoy their current location, they said the space is cramped.
“Our kitchen at home is bigger,” Holmes said. “And after a while, you want your own space.”
On a busy night, Whitacre noted, they can fit three cooks, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the kitchen.
So they decided to strike out on their own. They found the Port location online, and thought it had a lot of character.
“We fell in love with it,” Whitacre said, when they saw the space with its high ceilings, beautifully carved bar and a kitchen that’s much larger than their current facility.
They leased the place in February and have been refurbishing it ever since.
The couple operated Wicked Grille in Sheboygan through April 1. They plan a soft opening at their new Port location on April 12.
“We didn’t want a lot of down time for our employees,” Whitacre said. “They’re like family.”
A grand opening is expected on May 6.
The couple, who plan to hire a few more employees after they open, stressed that they aren’t a bar.
“We’re not looking to get into the bar scene,” Holmes said.
They will, however, carry a number of 3 Sheeps beers at the restaurant. They plan to have craft beers on tap and serve domestic beers by the bottle.
The restaurant is tentatively set to be open Wednesdays through Sundays. The eatery will open at 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, when they will serve brunch.
PAUSING DURING RECENT renovations at the former Starters Restaurant were the Wicked Grille owners, from left, Robert Holmes, Ashley Whitacre and 6-year-old Levi Holmes. Photo by Sam Arendt