‘Progressive’ concept in West Bend
of The Norbert wants patrons to fill up on small plates
By AMANDA VOSS - Daily News
Oct. 15, 2014
Two waitresses help
John Ehlke/Daily News
BEND - Tony Koebel, co-owner of the Poplar Inn, is
offering West Bend residents a unique dining experience
in their own backyard that might otherwise require a
40-mile trip to Milwaukee.
The Norbert, 115 S. Main St., named after Koebel’s
grandfather, opened about four weeks ago. It isn’t your
average restaurant because of its small plates concept.
“We wanted to be the first small plates concept
restaurant in West Bend,” Koebel said. “We wanted to
have a restaurant that was very progressive for West
Bend. We wanted a semi-urban feel. We wanted to bring
some of the big city menu ideas to West Bend.”
Koebel said the small plates concept is essentially
James Jones, executive chef for The Norbert and the
Poplar Inn, said small plates is a new concept that
features less rigorous menus, that evolved from Spanish
“We don’t want people walking out the door feeling like
gluttony,” Koebel said. “We don’t want them feeling
full. We want them feeling really really good, so we’re
offering these smaller portions. We never take a menu
away from the table. As the night goes on people can
order as much as they want.”
Jones said the concept started popping up in the last 10
years with the popularity of the Food Network.
“People are a little bit more open-minded about trying
new foods,” Jones said.
Tony Koebel walks around
the bar at The Norbert on Oct. 1 in West Bend
“There is this new
crop of people that have grown up on the Food Network,”
Koebel said. “They’ve seen all sorts of new flavors.
It’s not really a steak-and-potatoes generation
The menu customers see one night won’t be the same the
next night because the menu changes every day. It might
be challenging, but Jones said he gets to be creative
and has fun.
“We understand the times are changing and people are
looking for something different and something
healthier,” Koebel said.
While The Norbert is progressive, Koebel said they will
turn back the clock on Saturday nights and host Supper
Club Saturdays in addition to the small plates menu
where supper club favorites like beef Wellington, prime
rib, chicken cordon bleu, old-school pasta dishes and
relish trays will be offered.
It took about four months for Koebel to renovate what
used to be Januli’s Pizzeria and Italian Deli into The
Norbert. Koebel said when people walk into The Norbert
the first thing they will see is the backbar and 20 beer
tap lines comprised of craft beers.
“We understand craft beers are huge right now in the
industry,” Koebel said.
Then he said customers will see a large open area that
is painted a deep shade of blue complimented by soft
elements like chandeliers hanging from the painted tin
ceiling. He described the decor as semiurban,
progressive, industrial and modern.
Even though customers remark about how much bigger the
space is, Koebel said he hasn’t changed the footprint of
the space. He removed the deli counter and installed new
flooring. He built the tabletops, designed the bar
stools and created a Jenga looking set of wood blocks on
the bottom half of the columns, which is a by-product of
Koebel is a carpenter by trade and works with Habitat
for Humanity. He had a tight budget and most of the
materials in the restaurant are reclaimed or recycled.
“This truly was a dream of mine to do this,” Koebel
It might be challenging to own two restaurants, but
Koebel said his parents have taken over his
responsibilities at the Poplar Inn.
Koebel’s father, Michael Koebel, said the Poplar Inn and
The Norbert will be collaborating. He said both
restaurants share the same chef, do business the same
way by putting the customer first and share similar
Michael said he, his wife Denise and Tony have talked
about a possible second location, but it was a matter of
finding a great one. With Tony’s experience, Michael
knew it could be a success.
Tony hasn’t done any marketing for The Norbert and
there’s no sign on the building yet. He is letting
residents spread the word. “I understand West Bend talks
and people think that is a bad thing and I don’t see it
that way,” Tony said. “What I see is a town that looks
out for each other more than anything else. It’s not
that the people here want to know everybody’s business
all the time. I think people are genuinely concerned
with each other.”
“Hopefully friends talk to friends and neighbors talk to
neighbors and the next thing you know it’s a wonderful
dining experience because people are frequenting the
place and they know each other,” he said.
The Norbert opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Tony said they aren’t taking reservations because he
doesn’t want to exclude anyone.
“Our whole thing is everyone is invited,” Tony said.