From left, Elaine Lesko
of West Bend, Lucy Weller of Cedarburg and Anne Pagel of
Cedarburg talk as they wait for their meal Oct. 11 at
The Norbert in West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News
large sign hangs above the entrance to the kitchen from
the house at The Norbert, a restaurant in downtown West
big, colorful letters it reads “Adaptation.”
Owner and chef Tony Koebel said it is the perfect
definition for what goes on at The Norbert, 115 S. Main
“That’s always been the word here. Since Day 1,” Koebel
said. “Can we move, change, can we adapt what the market
is asking for? Can each of us adapt to changes that are
being made in the market and the customers and the
added, pointing to five of 20 staff members, “And, can I
adapt to the brainpower that these people have? Can we
make it work?”
Norbert was one of the 10 recommended restaurants within
Washington County by Daily News readers in a recent,
“There’s no person who is the star of the show,” Koebel
said. “I believe in a cooperative effort.
much as it would be nice to have a set menu and set
ideas and set scheduling, I believe that a restaurant
can run under chaos, can run under many ideas.”
those ideas often come in the hours before the
restaurant in the former Januli’s opens at 4 p.m. for
Oct. 7, cooks at The Norbert put together a root
vegetable medley — roasted beets and potatoes, carrot
ribbons, radishes, honey lime vinaigrette and edible
just came out of nowhere,” Koebel said.
However, it was hugely popular, selling out that night.
That ability to come up with something, almost on a
whim, is what The Norbert’s customers love most.
“There is something always new at The Norbert,” one
survey respondent said. “And it’s always creative and
Bend’s Ashley Remmert said, “The Norbert is my favorite
because they do a lot for the community and the food is
amazing and they are always changing up their menu.”
only original items still on The Norbert menu when it
opened in September 2014 are the coconut shrimp, steak
sliders and fish tacos.
Zielinski, a staff member, said The Norbert’s
“originality” is what she believes helps separate it
from other restaurants.
menu is always changing,” Koebel said.
Koebel is not a stranger to changing, adapting at the
proverbial snap of a finger.
Three years ago, he hoped to open a barbecue restaurant
where Dublin’s is today on Wisconsin Street in West
Bend. But the deal fell through.
Koebel accepted a job and was 33 days away from moving
from his native West Bend to Atlanta to continue in the
restaurant business. At the time, he was with Poplar Inn
for about seven years.
Koebel had ditched just about all of his belongings,
minus a few articles of clothing and shoes.
one day his phone rang.
“Julie Sears, who used to own Januli’s, she called me,
33 days before I was leaving for Georgia,” Koebel said,
adding he was also planning to work with Habitat for
Humanity’s international hub in Atlanta.
came in with a screamin’ deal and I changed everything.
I said, ‘OK. I’m going to do it. I’m going to stay in
West Bend.’” The other reason as to why he wanted to
move to Atlanta was because he was ready for a shift in
literally threw away everything I own, except for some
Tshirts and Converse All-Stars and some jeans,” Koebel
said. “Yearbooks, baby pictures, you name it. I was
through with it. I wanted a change in my life.
had a place in Atlanta. I was dead set and then Julie
was also out of money and knew getting help from banks
to open up a new restaurant was difficult. But his
friends and anyone else he could think of stepped up and
helped him open The Norbert.
Januli’s closed in April 2014 after nearly 13 years in
business. On May 7, 2014, Koebel got the keys to the
building. On Sept. 10, 2014, The Norbert opened, maybe
prematurely. But, Koebel had to, he said.
nickel-and-dimed this all together,” Koebel said, adding
when the restaurant opened in September 2014, there were
still power tools scattered in spots throughout the
design and construction of the restaurant was all
through Koebel’s vision and a vast collection of
recycled material. He did so because he admitted he was
a carpenter at heart, which is why he was and remains
involved in Habitat for Humanity.
“Years and years ago, West Bend Company made an exercise
product called The Total Gym,” Koebel said. “When West
Bend Company closed, they liquidated everything for
pennies on the dollar and my dad, somehow, ended up with
77 pieces of that stock that helped build The Total
Gyms. I used every piece. All 77 pieces are in this
restaurant has come a long way since.
Norbert, led by Koebel, is also involved in the
year, it has a community Thanksgiving dinner. No
reservations are required and customers pay what they
“This place has seen extreme growth,” Koebel said. “And
we’re still on a trajectory that maybe I’m not even
that’s something the Koebel and his staff are used to:
change and adaptation. It’s just the way they like it.
“It’s been pretty wild,” Koebel said.