When it first opened in 1886, the now faded brick building at 200 Phillips Blvd. in Sauk City was a wagon factory. It has served many purposes since that time, including most recently, as Leystra’s Venture Restaurant for the past 30 years.
The next chapter of the old wagon factory began quietly about a year ago, when Prairie du Sac residents Dick and Joyce Gillen purchased the restaurant from Jim Leystra. Since then, the Gillens have kept the doors of the restaurant open under the Leystra name, easing into their ownership and getting a feel for what need they can fill in the area.
Now, all of that is about to change. After the plates are washed and the tables cleared from its Easter brunch April 1, the restaurant will close for about a month to accommodate a remodel. When it reopens May 1, patrons will step inside to the newly established Sauk-Prairie Grill.
Just about everything will be getting a fresh coat of paint and all the public areas of the restaurant will have a new, modern feel, according to Dick Gillen. That includes everything from the floors to the furniture, flatware, glassware and dishware.
Joyce Gillen said the front entrance is getting a complete makeover with a view into the renovated kitchen area. The bakery case will be shifted to accommodate a larger entryway.
Jeff Prucha, executive chef and general manager for the Sauk-Prairie Grill, said patrons will still be able to enjoy the delicious pies and other bakery items they have come to expect, but will be introduced to a whole new menu featuring Neapolitan-style pizzas cooked in a brick oven, a selection of regional pasta dishes, and, most importantly, Prucha said the Sauk-Prairie Grill is committed to the farm-to-table movement.
“All our steaks will be hand-cut by the chef using only USDA prime Wisconsin steer,” Prucha said. “We hugely believe in offering locally-sourced products.”
The food isn’t the only thing that is locally-sourced. All of the contracting work planned for the building’s remodel will be done by local businesses.
“I think the furthest away is the LED sign company out of Wausau, because they are the only ones who do it,” Joyce Gillen said. “Our suppliers are local as well.”
When it reopens the grill will also be licensed to sell beer and wine as well. In staying with its local theme, the beer and wine selection will be Wisconsin-sourced as well.
“We just think it’s important to be a part of your community through the course of your business, not just because that’s where your address is,” Prucha said.
Dick Gillen said although the Sauk Prairie area does have other eating establishments, most of what’s offered is bars.
“We certainly don’t have anything against serving beer and wine, but we are a full service family restaurant,” Dick Gillen said. “We want everyone who comes here to feel welcome.”
That’s why the Sauk-Prairie Grill is unique, Prucha said.
“The cool thing is, I can bring my date here for an incredible steak and lobster dinner, or I can bring my family here for a few pizzas and a couple pitchers,” Prucha said. “Or I can bring in my grandkid in for ice cream cone, bring mom in for a piece of pie. That’s the great thing about this restaurant; we can be a lot of things to a lot of people. And that’s fairly unique in the restaurant business.”
The Gillens also plan to pay homage to the history of the Sauk Prairie area with a collection of old photos and displays.
“People have a certain expectation when they walk up to this building; especially those who have been here before,” Prucha said. “We want to make sure we exceed that expectation. We want to be true to the history of the building; the history of the area.”
With that, he said comes the expectation of great service, good, fresh locally-sourced food.
“We want to be a destination,” Prucha said. “A place for locals to gather but at the same time be a really cool place for tourists to come too. We want it to be a real hub of the community. That’s ultimately our goal.”