Centennial owner had a ‘good vibe’ about Sobelmans
‘Milwaukee’s best burger’ coming to Mequon

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

April 28, 2015

The Centennial Bar & Grille on North Port Washington Road in Mequon will close Saturday and re-open in mid-July as the third location of Sobelman’s Pub & Grill.   
Photo by Gary Achterberg

MEQUON — Brian Ruelle, longtime owner of The Centennial Bar & Grille in Mequon, never had met Dave Sobelman before they started talking about selling the restaurant.

Ruelle had been a frequent customer of Sobelman’s and developed a good feeling for Sobelman being a perfect fit to take over the restaurant Ruelle has owned at 10352 N. Port Washington Road since 1988.

“Every time I went into Sobelmans, I always told myself I just like the vibe his staff portrays,” he said. “When I go to a place, I watch the staff more than anything. I just told myself I like the way this guy does things; he does it right.”

That led to Ruelle sending an email to Sobelman a little more than a year ago, telling him that he was thinking about selling. He told Sobelman his restaurant would be a perfect fit for a new location of the restaurant, which already has locations in the Menomonee Valley on St. Paul Avenue and smack-dab in the middle of the Marquette University campus. Sobelman opened his first restaurant in May 1999.

The conversation continued and led to this week’s announcement that Sobelman will open his third restaurant next month at the Centennial location in Mequon.

“We had never met before, but (Ruelle) understood this is perfect for me and what I do,” Sobelman said on Tuesday. “This place is absolutely beautiful.”

Sobelman, whose popular restaurants feature a selection of burgers, other sandwiches, a fish fry, appetizers and an iconic bloody Mary, hopes to open his new Mequon location on July 13, or possibly the following Monday if he needs a bit more time. The Centennial will close Saturday.

“We’re changing very little – almost nothing,” he said, adding that most of his planned changes involve adding equipment he needs in the kitchen. The food menu will be similar to the other locations, but he said he plans to expand his wine offerings because he believes it will be popular with Mequon customers.

“This should be fun for us – and it will be fun for our customers,” Sobelman said.

Ruelle said Sobelman, who lives in Bayside with his wife Melanie, will be carrying on a tradition of a tavern and restaurant in the 117-year-old building at Port Washington and Donges Bay roads.

Ruelle bought the restaurant, known at the time as the Donges Bay Inn, in August 1988. Prior to that it was the Good Ollman from 1974 to 1981 and the Old Car Bar from the mid-’60s to 1974.

Port Washington Road used to be the main road between Chicago to Wisconsin’s north woods. While Ruelle said there’s no way to know, he speculated that Chicago gangsters who spent time up north during the Prohibition era may have stopped at the roadhouse.

Ruelle is confident the restaurant will be in “very good hands.” He said he is very pleased that Sobelman offered a job to all of his employees and plans to honor his gift cards and loyalty program. Some of the Centennial’s employees have worked there for well over a decade.

“That’s so uncommon,” Ruelle said. “We really are a small-time operation and we consider ourselves like family. He said anybody who works for you is going to be offered a job with me. That said something to me.”

Sobelman said he is excited about moving to the North Shore. He added he eventually would like to open another restaurant or two in the Milwaukee area. If that happens, they will be in other historic buildings.

Ruelle, who is 57 and said he’s “not wired right now to be retired,” plans to take a little time off, talk to his wife and then embark on the next chapter of his life.

“I consider myself a very wealthy man with all the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve been fortunate to establish,” he said.

Gary Achterberg can be reached at .