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Capitalizing on years of experience

Area couple ventured out on their own with Fork & Dagger Ale Haus

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August 29, 2022

KIEL – Nate and Denise Paulish, owners of The Fork & Dagger Ale Haus in Kiel, said having extensive experience in the hospitality industry made opening their own restaurant five years ago the right move for them and their careers.

Both from small towns in the Kiel area – Nate from St. Cloud and Denise from Waldo – the couple said tapping into the knowledge they gained through their many years in the industry has helped Fork & Dagger find success.

“While I was in high school, I was in the restaurant business, and I’ve stuck with it since then,” Nate said. “I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up. You work on the line in the kitchen, and before you know it, you’re a full-time employee in restaurants. I took it from there.”

Denise said growing up with grandparents who owned a local diner helped. 

“My grandparents had a diner in Waldo for 15 years, so I’ve always been in the restaurant industry and stuck with it,” she said. 

Nate said their experiences working in multiple large facilities gave him and Denise the urge to start their own business. 

“Managing them, running them and overseeing them, eventually you get that urge,” he said. “You see what the businesses are doing and how well they’re doing, you want to take your own angle on it and do your own thing. Everybody’s dream in the U.S. is to be a business owner and have that dream come alive. We started looking (for a property to buy) in 2016. We bought this in 2017.”

The building that houses the ale haus had been a bar since the 1890s. 

“We overhauled it, converted it and made it a lot nicer than it has been in the past,” Nate said. 

Though the space had been used as a supper club of sorts in the 1980s and 1990s, the couple said they wanted to reconfigure the business into a gastropub.

Inspiration behind the name

Nate said coming up with the name Fork & Dagger took several weeks. 

“If you look online, you see the knife and fork concept,” he said. “We thought we’d take a twist on something like that. My uncle is a blacksmith, so he came up with the dagger concept. We always wanted to stand out, be different and make our name pop.”

The facility includes a banquet room in the lower level that seats about 40, and a dining room on the main level that seats 80-90.

There’s also a full bar that has space for dining.

“We made the bar top nice and wide for a proper place setting at the bar top,” Nate said. “We’ve got craft beers, some nice wines and specialty cocktails. Everybody likes the atmosphere.”

Fork & Dagger is open Thursday through Saturday evenings from 4-9 p.m., with extended bar hours.

Nate said before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ale haus was open more days each week.

He said they hope to add more days again soon.

Regional pull

Being located close to Elkhart Lake and Road America, plus being barely off the route countless folks from Illinois travel to get to Door County, the Paulishes said the tourist season is especially busy for them. 

They said nearly 50% of their business comes from the locals – and that’s not only from the Kiel or New Holstein area, but within an hour’s radius from their location, including the Fox Cities, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Two Rivers and Sheboygan.

Nate said word of mouth is integral to the establishment’s popularity, and most of that is driven through social media.

As far as the food, he said for the most part, customers seem to like the steaks and gourmet burgers.

“We have a diverse menu that’s geared toward gastropub-style food,” Nate said. “We use wine and beer in our food and use whiskey and bourbon in sauces. Everything is pretty much homemade. We’re doing homemade cheesecakes, pasta dishes and fresh fish every day. Our cocktails and beers are phenomenal. We have 70 different beers available right now and lots of specialty cocktails we craft in front of the customers.”

Nate is also a chef. 

“I run to Milwaukee every week and hand pick some (of our food items),” he said. “There’s a specialty store in Milwaukee where I get a bunch of my stuff — beef, fish, cheeses, hard cheeses, nice meats and produce – that I might not be able to get from other companies. I can put my hands on it, see what’s going on and see the freshness of things.”

Branching out

With the success of Fork & Dagger, the Paulishes opened another restaurant just down the road last year.

Nate said Stone Dagger Pizzeria, which is open for dinner Wednesday and Thursday and lunch and dinner Friday-Sunday, is geared toward the everyday guy. 

He said there are about 15 employees at Fork & Dagger and 20 at the pizzeria, including Nate and Denise’s daughter (when she’s home from college) and their high school-aged son.

Denise said though owning and operating a restaurant is a lot of work, there’s joy to be found in the endeavor. 

“We wanted to create a place where we’d want to go hang out,” she said. “We like to host parties. It’s like hosting a party with different people three days a week.”

Nate said seeing their dream become a reality has been gratifying.

“We wanted to stand out and be different from everybody else,” he said. “Our portions are good, and the atmosphere we’ve got going is different from all the other places around here. I strive to make great food and make people happy through their (stomachs). We’ve always loved taking care of people. We like to serve.”

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