When looking for a prime vacation spot, one usually doesn’t turn to the islands of Northern Germany. Yet, the tiny island of Rugen has recently become well known as a relaxing haven. The island’s sandy coastlines and chalk cliffs have created a destination for travelers in search of a short recess from regular life. Jim & Nicole Hayes, owner and operators of Rugan’s in Antioch, Illinois, leaned on their German heritage when choosing a name for their restaurant and bar. The island embodied everything the couple envisioned for their restaurant; a place to relax and destress over a delicious meal and hand crafted drink. Now, the beloved restaurant is expanding and making a new home in Burlington, Wisconsin.
The new restaurant and bar will be set on the corner of Milwaukee Ave and Pine Street. “This is the building we have always wanted,” says Jim. “We walked in here, and right away, we got the goosebumps. We thought, ‘We are supposed to own this building and bring it back.’”
The couple has experience in design, business, and liquor sales. With the help of the Historical Society, they were able to not only restore the building, but to also uncover the history that goes with it.
“It’s going to be a throwback to the history of Burlington, to what it might have been like in the 1890’s when it was first opened as a mercantile,” states Nicole. Wood beams saved from a local barn have been recovered and used to frame the front windows. The existing stage has been was partially repurposed for the bar. An old ladder stretching high up the back of the bar was bought from a local antique store. Farm trophies, large historical pictures, and maps all lend their individual histories to the character of the restaurant.
“We walked in here, and right away, we got the goosebumps. We thought, ‘We are supposed to own this building and bring it back.’”
The couple has been hands on from the beginning. Doing the majority of the labor themselves, Jim and Nicole have truly thrown their hearts and souls into the renovations. The duo has done everything themselves, from sanding and staining, to cutting tiles and laying floors. Their desire was to make a space that was comfortable for everyone. A melting pot of sorts. “We get the women dressed to the nines, sitting next to the bearded guys with work boots, drinking micro beers,” says Nicole. As a result, the venue is perfect for all attire and occasions. Live acoustic and blues music are a welcome accompaniment to dinner and drinks, alongside friends and family.
The menu is the ideal complement to the mature rustic atmosphere. Focusing heavily on farm to table, Rugan’s sources a large majority of its food locally. They strive to provide people with high quality, reasonably priced food and drinks. Menu items include fish tacos, flatbreads, quesadillas, crab cakes, salads and more. All the classic pub foods, with decadent gourmet twists.
Wine and beer are familiar sights on any restaurant menu. However, at Rugan’s, the goal is to have the best beer list in the area. Their focus? American Craft Beer, within a three-hour range. “We really want to support small local craft beer.” says Jim. With over one hundred and fifty beers on the menu, and several new ones introduced a week, the restaurant offers a new adventure for even the expert cicerones.
[metaslider id=1182] In addition to the unique and comprehensive beer list, Rugan’s has reinvented the common cocktail. “All of our drinks are hand muddled. Ginger root, lime, agave. We don’t use cheater products; we don’t have cheap vodka in the rail.” Jim states. Every drink served at Rugan’s embodies the deep roots of authentic liquor.
Rugan’s focus goes beyond the trend of supporting local businesses and steps straight into the heart of it: making it a true way of life. The couple is outspoken about their desire for community and patriotism. Giving back is an important aspect of the Rugan’s family, and they show this by supporting their neighboring businesses, a Giving Tree at Christmas, hiring veterans, and mentoring young entrepreneurs. Their hearts are genuinely invested in the community around them. It’s no wonder their patrons grow into close friends.
Jim and Nicole Hayes found inspiration in the old bones of a vacant building. But the couple has done more than a simple restoration; they have truly created a destination. A space that holds history, and dresses it up with a splash of genuine class. “We have big plans for this place,” says Nicole with a little smile. What those plans are, only time will tell. In the meantime, all we can do is unwind in the relaxing atmosphere, order a brew or cocktail, and indulge in the decadent food placed before us.
We may not all be able to afford a quick trip to this beautiful island in Germany, but we can certainly afford some rest and relaxation – and with the spirit of Germany by its side Rugan’s is prepared to give you just that. A jet set of the mind away, in the middle of somewhere familiar.
Photographer: Grant Goldenstern
By: Kinsey Quernemoen