By Callie Gay
Stepping inside Brandywine after eight o’clock on a Saturday night, I was sure we wouldn’t be able to find a seat. Outside, the tables were full and, through the large front windows, it was clear that they were having a busy night. The buzz of half a dozen conversations followed my friends and I up the steps, through the door, into the historic building in downtown Cedarburg, where husband and wife team Andrew and Rhiannon Wilson, opened their first restaurant just weeks ago, after years of planning and dreaming.
With a quick scan of the front and back room, I could see that we were going to have to wait for a table to open up. There wasn’t even an open seat at the bar and, judging from the tired look on the servers’ faces as they moved around patrons and did their best not to appear overwhelmed, they’d been busy all evening. The hostess greeted us with a smile, and asked how we were doing — a courtesy almost shocking on a busy weekend night, especially when two more groups of people were moving in the door behind us and waiting their turn to be seated. When I spoke with the co-owner, Andrew Wilson, he told me that finding good people had been his top priority, and I could tell he accomplished his goal when I saw the calm demeanor of the hostess in the face of a snappy customer, as well as the time our waiter took to describe a dish, though he was clearly juggling several tables.
If you didn’t know this was the first restaurant Andrew and Rhiannon had ever opened, or that it’s only been in operation for less than a month, you’d never guess it while you’re sitting at the table surrounded by an air of comfortable charm, scanning the small but impressive menu of handmade pastas and simple but rich desserts that are made daily, and listening to the hum of conversation all around. Tables on both sides of us were filled with big groups of laughing friends; couples leaned in close to one another, deep in conversation; all of them giving the impression that they’d been there a dozen times before, and would come again a dozen more. Andrew said that their hope was to create “a neighborhood place, where people feel comfortable and leave full.” Sitting at the table trying to find the right words for the rich but light flourless chocolate cake, I was amazed that the Wilson’s vision has come together so fully in such a short amount of time, because an ambiance of delicious comfort is the only way I can accurately describe Brandywine.
Andrew started working in a restaurant as a busboy and dishwasher seventeen years ago at Trattoria Stefano, an Italian restaurant in Sheboygan, where he was later promoted to cook, and then went on to be an executive sous chef for Bacchus. “I really enjoy the fast-paced, physical nature of it,” he said, “and beyond that, I’ve always really enjoyed the camaraderie and the team element of being in the kitchen with a group of people and working hard towards a common goal.” Owning a restaurant has been his goal as long as he’s been in a kitchen. Then, in 2015, he lost both of his parents, and that heartbreak spurred him into action, “I just decided, you should chase your dreams.” From that loss, Brandywine was born.
With his wife, Rhiannon, and their three children, the Wilson’s moved from Madison to Glendale to be closer to Rhiannon’s parents, and to begin to look for the perfect place to open the restaurant they named after Andrew’s Mother’s favorite variety of Amish tomato. “She was a really avid gardener,” he said. “There were a couple of years that we had a few too many tomato plants, and when I thought about a name for the restaurant, I thought of that.” They looked all around Ozaukee county, but Cedarburg is just what the couple was looking for. No matter where they looked, they always came back to it, citing the city’s charm and small town feel as the biggest reasons they wanted to make it work. “I love the idea of doing business where I live,” Andrew said, “and we knew we wanted to live here.”
Last year, the family moved from Glendale and spent the summer living in the apartment above the restaurant, as their vision began to come together. With the help of family (Rhiannon’s father-in-law, in particular, who is a commercial painter and did a lot of the finishing), the Wilson’s have been putting in long hours and hard labor, working towards their opening. “I think you have to have healthy dose of naivety,” Andrew said. “You think, 'I’ve worked hard before and I can do this,' but the last month or so has probably been the most challenging of my life. But it’s been fun, too. I’m trying to enjoy the ride.”
Opening weekend proved to the new restaurant owners that the city of Cedarburg and its residents had anxiously awaited everything they have to give. Friends, old and new, coworkers, and the community, at large, all came to show their support (and probably also to sample some of the delicious food that ranges from burgers with caramelized onions and beer battered cheese curds, to braised pork mezzaluna in a spicy tomato sauce).
As I finished a piece of flourless chocolate cake slathered in salted caramel and topped with whipped creme fraiche and raspberries, the door opened with more new customers hoping to get a table. Our waiter told us to let him know when we needed the check, but we didn’t feel pushed to leave — quite the contrary; along with all the patrons around us, we felt free to linger, though we didn’t. We left and made room for others to discover their new favorite place to go for dinner and drinks in Cedarburg.
Callie Gay is a freelance writer, and mother of two boys. In her former life she traveled the world and hunted down the most delicious food she could find. These days she spends her time begging two small people to try a vegetable, and marveling at the fact that she prefers it. She writes to avoid doing laundry.