Turning from eyesore to ‘sloppy’ delight


Nov. 14, 2017

Colin Shepet of Pewaukee takes a photo of a the tap handles before having a drink with company Friday night at Sloppy Joe’s in Hubertus.
John Ehlke/Daily News

HUBERTUS — The building at 3723 Hubertus Road, which houses Sloppy Joe’s Saloon and Spoon, was meant to be a restaurant.

What wasn’t intended was for Joe Hennes and later his wife, Ellen, to own it.

“I just wanted to renovate a little piece of our little downtown in Hubertus, the way it was,” Joe said.

In 2001, Joe’s inspiration to do something came after reading “Richfield Remembers The Past.” He grew up on the family farm about a mile away from the present-day Sloppy Joe’s. At that time, Joe said the building was dilapidated and an eyesore.

“In that book, it showed a beautiful building,” Joe said. “This was a hustling and bustling little downtown area of Hubertus. I looked at it (in 2001) and it was embarrassing.”

Soon after that, he crossed paths with the owner of the building and had an engaging conversation.

Eventually, Joe bought the building, doing so in late 2002, and became part of the renovation work for someone who wanted to lease the building and turn it into a restaurant. A few months later, the person who had the lease had to back out and Joe couldn’t do the same. He didn’t want to.

“I knew I was about to become a restaurant owner,” Joe said.

He wasn’t ready for the change as he was a guidance counselor at Brookfield East High School and was in education for 22 years. His only restaurant experience was working at Jerry’s Old Town Inn in Germantown when he was 16.

But, he couldn’t back out. The building, the eyesore, meant too much to him.

“You kind of fall in love with the journey of getting there,” Joe said. “Once you see it come to life, you’re looking through it with new eyes. You look at it as you could be the operator of a nice, family-style restaurant I thought could be a value within our community.”

Joe opened the doors to Sloppy Joe’s in 2003.

The development of Sloppy Joe’s, Joe said, is a credit to Johnny Meleski from Johnny Manhattan’s, which is across the street.

“He helped set me up for success,” Joe said.

As Sloppy Joe’s gained exposure, notoriety, Joe decided it was time to step up the offerings.

“I’ve made a strong initiative to do real, authentic barbecue,” Joe said.

To do so, nearly four years ago, Joe purchased a smoker that sits outside near the patio. Not only can passing motorists see and smell what’s cooking, Joe said people have told him they can smell it from miles away.

Figuratively, the smell has drifted well beyond Washington County.

“Sloppy Joe’s has the best barbecue and fish fry in the whole county,” said Bill Perkins of Green Bay. “My wife and I have gone there from Green Bay just to get us some great food.”

To learn about the ins and outs of serving smoked barbecue, Joe got help from a friend who also cooked barbecue and competed in the world championship in Tennessee. Joe went with the friend one year to help out.

“Since that time, we’ve made investments in attending regular barbecue classes and seminars, and taking our staff to that,” Joe said. “People can really see the difference between somebody who’s trying to do brisket, barbecue ribs and turkey and chicken compared to someone’s who doing a really good job at it.”

Joe said it’s been humbling to see people rave about their barbecue offerings, including visitors from Texas and Tennessee that have said they’re blown away by Sloppy Joe’s barbecue taste.

The No. 1 seller at the restaurant is the beef brisket. Joe and his wife got the idea to bring the taste of barbecue north to Sloppy Joe’s after several vacations to the Smoky Mountains.

“I’ve always loved barbecue,” Joe said, adding being around some of the authentic places down south piqued the desire more.

“I think this is a place that real people expect real food,” Joe said, adding food off the smoker is impossible to fake.

“We cook it with hickory wood and then we finish it with apple wood,” he said.

Nothing is frozen at Sloppy Joe’s. Well, the ice cream is.

“It’s just different,” Ellen said. “A lot of people call (Sloppy Joe’s) their Cheers because everybody knows their name.”

The establishment has become a hit for Green Bay Packers players, too.

“In the time we’ve been here, we’ve had about 15-20 different Packers players from the Lombardi era to the 1996 Super Bowl champions,” Joe said.

Among them are William Henderson, Fuzzy Thurston, Antonio Freeman and Gilbert Brown.

When that started to happen, that was Joe’s realization Sloppy Joe’s was on the map, which was impressive considering Hubertus is not listed as an option destination on the signs on Interstate 41.

“It’s certainly an eye opener when all of the sudden my phone rings on a Friday night and it’s Sean Jones, who is a Super Bowl champion,” Joe said. “He calls and said he’s heard from several other teammates what a great stop this is when they fly into Milwaukee and they’re on their way to Green Bay. So he wanted to make sure I was here because he wanted to stop by.”

Also among that group is Joe’s favorite player: Jerry Kramer.

“We’ve gotten to be friends with him since that time,” Joe said.

The restaurant’s slogan is “Where strangers become friends and where friends become family.” Many things have happened that validate that with, for example, pictures scattered throughout the restaurant, including of Joe’s great-great-grandfather.

“Sloppy Joe’s has an incredible selection and the specials are always delicious,” said Cari Landowski of Campbellsport. “The service is impeccable and Sloppy Joe’s truly cares about the customer experience. The owners and the chef put in their best effort day in and day out.”


Open a brew pub? ‘Sure. We like beer’

Bibinger's: An authentic hidden gem

The Norbert: Adapt, adopt, improve