(Evansville, WI) Gina Duwe, Gazette
Greg DeBroux looked at several communities before picking Evansville to relocate his longtime Oregon restaurant and catering business.
“I thought it had a great downtown, a good small-community vibe, and I believe there was a niche for us to fill that would provide great homemade soups and bakery and still be able to do my catering,” he said.
On Labor Day weekend, he opened DeBroux House Café at 18 E. Main St., filling one of the last vacant spaces on the downtown's cobblestone street.
When residents gather downtown for the annual Olde Fashioned Christmas this weekend, they'll find all available storefronts occupied for the first time in years.
With the recent addition of DeBroux House Café and Blu's Froyo Shoppe, expected to open Saturday, all storefronts that were seeking tenants are full, City Administrator Ian Rigg said.
“We're actually running out of space,” he said.
City Council President Jim Brooks, who also heads the city's economic development committee, credits landlords for making building improvements and work by the Evansville Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, Women Encouraging Evansville's Entrepreneurs (WE3), Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club and the economic development committee.
“Our efforts to get people on Main Street are working,” he said. “It's been a long recovery for everybody.”
Rigg said it seems as if the city is starting to run out of places to guide people who are looking for potential storefronts or places for their businesses.
“I think we're ripe to get more new construction, hopefully pretty soon. Hopefully some investors will see the benefit,” he said.
Blu's Froyo Shoppe owners Jan Klaehn and Justin Schott knew they wanted to be on Main Street and part of “life downtown,” Klaehn said. Their renovations kept the historic charm of 11 E. Main St., where they expect to open Saturday with an array of self-serve frozen yogurt, craft soda and other treats.
For DeBroux, his renovated historic space also has an original tin ceiling and maple floors that helped make his Oregon location a destination for Dane County residents for 18 years.
He has created a fun meeting place for families in Evansville, where he landscaped the unused outdoor space. Now he can host over 50 people in the area's only outdoor seating venue with wine and beer, and he already has weddings booked for next summer.
DeBroux wanted to downsize from 40 employees in Oregon to about five, reducing stress and allowing him to settle into a place for retirement. He sold his Stoughton home and moved to Evansville.
Klaehn and Schott are both raising their young families in Evansville and talked about ideas to open something new without competing with existing restaurants. They wanted to help drive traffic downtown and add to existing businesses, she said.
Klaehn described how her family always wanted a place to go after school events with her daughters, but there was no standalone ice cream shop where people could gather for celebrations or everyday treats.
“We want to be that place,” she said.
She said they sought high-quality ingredients and clean labels, following their mantra of providing “an indulgence we can all feel good about.” The menu includes organic frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, craft soda and gourmet popcorn. It will be the first Wisconsin retail outlet to offer Yogurt Farmer frozen yogurt and Red Tractor Soda.
“We really put a lot of thought into creating a place that was really unique to Evansville and reflects Evansville's character,” Klaehn said, starting with the name. “Blu” is a reference to the school's Blue Devil mascot.
DeBroux knew he wanted to be near Oregon to draw from his former customer base, which has followed him to Evansville. On recent Sundays, he has had more than 100 customers in his indoor and outdoor spaces.
In his nine weeks since opening, “The hope and expectations have been exceeded, and I can only see growth from here,” DeBroux said.
The city is working with Debroux on terms for a loan through a city program, Rigg said, and the city has approved a $1,124 business improvement grant for building upgrades.
He took his best items from his menu at DeBroux's Diner in Oregon, and he prides himself on not using ingredients such as iceberg lettuce or white bread. Customer service has been a key to his success, he said, and he loves that he has enough time to talk to every customer in Evansville.
The more traffic they can get downtown to fill storefronts, the better, he said.
“I want to become a vital part of the community, involved in the community, and this is my last stop. This is the last chapter.”