Interview with The Brat House owner - Steve Haupt & General Manager Ted Kaminski

For the last five years The Brat House has been serving a large selection of locally made custom brats, along with a full menu of other tasty items ranging burgers and steaks, to soups, salads and specialty sandwiches.

Owner Steve Haupt, along with chef and general manager Ted Kaminski were kind enough to spend some time recently telling me about their delicious food, the unique history of the area’s oldest public accessible building, and how The Brat House came to be a favorite to both locals and tourists alike.  


Well first of all tell me a little about yourself. Are you originally from around this area?

No, I’m originally from Ohio. My dad was a Methodist preacher, so I grew up around southern Ohio.

Did you always want to be a restaurateur when you growing up?

No, I was going to be a rock star out of high school. (laughs) Went to the Berkley College of Music out in Boston and studied there for a while. Was going to be a trombone player. Thought I could make a living playing trombone – I was delusional obviously. (laughs) I did that for a while, but it was really expensive so I quit. Joined a band that I played with for a year, and our booking agent was out of Milwaukee so I played a lot in Wisconsin. Played with a five piece band.

What kind of music did you guys play?

Well that was early seventies, so we played early seventies music. You know Top 40, a little jazz, a little bit of this and that. Played around for a while, but found out that it was a really terrible way to make a living! Living with four guys and not making any money, moving every week and living out of a suitcase - pretty soon you just learn to hate the guys your with and all that. So I left the band and went to back to Ohio University. Studied communications for a while. Then eventually left there with a fluke move to Kansas with a friend, and got a job as an assistant manager trainee at a KFC out there. For that company I worked for several different franchisees out west managing KFC’s, and then in 1984 I leased this KFC (Lake Delton) and the one in Baraboo from a guy in Madison. There was an option to buy.

How did you find out about restaurants being available up here in the Dells area? Did you ever visit before, or was it just something that came through the grapevine?

Really my interest in Wisconsin was from playing in the band. I played Madison, Rhinelander, and just thought it was a really pretty state and that the people were real nice. So that sort of attracted me to it. My oldest brother is a doctor, and when he got out of medical school he set up a practice in Menomonee, Michigan. That’s how I got in touch with this franchisee. His doctor’s office was right across the street from the franchisee that owned KFC, so that’s how I got hooked up with this area. So I was in Wyoming actually, managing a KFC in Wyoming at the time, and I got a hold of this guy in Madison and said: “I don’t have any money, but I got a lot of experience and I would like to lease your KFC.”

So tell me a little about how the Brat House came to be? I imagine it had something to do with it being next door to your KFC?

Yes, this building here was an antique mall – it was called the Old Academy Antique Mall and it was owned by five or seven area people who were partners and owned the building. I guess the bank had the first right of refusal on it, but I leased the parking lot over here on the side because I needed the parking for KFC. In the lease was a 2nd right of refusal after the bank or something like that. So in ninety-nine I was talking to the folks that owned it and people were getting older, and they just wanted to cash out. So I bought the building.

Did you have any plans for it at that time?

No, I thought it would be nice to buy the building and just lease it out to somebody. Rent it and be done with it. I bought it like Jan 2 of 2000, the first business day of 2000. I signed the papers on it and got in, and it was really in tough shape. The building hadn’t had a paint job in fifty years. It just was beaten up. The main room had six layers of wallpaper on it and it just . . .

Needed some work?

Needed some work. But it had just this beautiful stained glass window out in front – which is a Civil War memorial stained glass window. The building seemed to me, that window made it worth saving. So, I didn’t know what to do with it and I thought well, it’s getting closer to summer and if someone was going to get into it, I got to start cleaning it up. Putting money into fixing it up. And at the time I was working with a good friend of mine that had a computer consulting business . . .

So that’s when you turned it into the Internet Café? (which the building housed before the Brat House)

Well this was prior to that. Country Tech (a computer store) Tom Divine used to run restaurants here in town. Ran Country Keg (a downtown Dells bar) and others. He sold his restaurants and got into computer consulting. He was a good friend, so I would sort of work with him – you know help him do hardware and stuff. He taught me about computers, and we were thinking about this building and what to do. We came up with the idea of the Internet Café

That was before the whole Wi-Fi being everywhere.


I remember coming in and using it for internet access back in the day. Now you can just access from a phone, but back then was nice to have a place to check email while on vacation.

Well initially it was a hit in town because at that time all the hotels had telephone systems that you couldn’t access a modem though, so even the big hotels needed a place to come and get on. I had twenty workstations in here.

I’m guessing a lot of businessmen would come in?

Yeah, you know families; kids came in here and played games against each other in a network. We had a coffee shop and made deli sandwiches and it actually did really well for the first few years. But, as technology started to catch up, and we got more coffee competitors in town and things like that, I decided to change it.

So that is when you turned it into the Brat House?

I’ve been in the restaurant business pretty much my whole life and said well, I need to make it a restaurant because that’s the business I know. I completely remodeled the kitchen, put in hood in the cook line, and all that kind of stuff. I got rid of the computers and put in the bar and other major remodeling. Throwing money like crazy! (laughs) We opened July 1st 2007.

That means the five year anniversary coming up.

Yep, and it’s been a real evolutionary thing. Growing ever sense. We got a lot of great customers. We have people that eat here just about every day! A lot of families. It’s just a warm building. Good atmosphere. People seem to like it

So did you always want to open up a bar? Like having dreams of it when you were younger?

No pretty much never! (laughs) Like I said, it’s sort of been an evolutionary thing in that I knew that the building itself lent itself to putting the big TV there behind the bar. For the 1st year I didn’t have a liquor license – I had beer and wine. Then, I think in December of 2008, I got a liquor license. So after that we started selling alcohol, but one thing led to another. Just seemed to be the thing to do to make the business a viable business. Really, I was just wanting to have a good restaurant, and the brat idea was kind of . . . well, we’re a tourist town. Bratwurst is the signature Wisconsin thing.

Speaking of the brats, where do you get them?

I hooked up with Wisconsin River Brands Meats who basically make custom brats for us. All local brats in there.

The kind that you won’t find at the grocery store . . .

Right, it’s not Johnsonville or Klement's – although there are a couple of them that we will cycle in and out.

Do you have any input if you wanted to do something special like throw some crazy ingredient in there? Will they do that for you?


Have you ever done that before?

Yeah, we have. Actually there is a beer cheese brat that we have made. They have a Cheddarwurst, but we said - ah it’s not quite what we want in it. So they custom designed our beer cheese brat for us. We said this is how we wanted the specifications and how we want it made. When buying those, we buy a whole batch at a time.

So for that particular brat, you can’t get it anywhere else except for at The Brat House?

You can’t buy it anywhere else. It’s a real good brat. It’s real popular. Its way more flavorful than anything. So yeah, we do like working with a small meat packing house like that. They are very accommodating. They’ll pretty much do anything we want. We got a mushroom Swiss brat, a jalapeño brat . . .

How many brats total do you have? In know it probably changes . . .

Yeah it changes, I think twelve that are on the menu, and there . . .

There are specials from time to time?

Yeah, we’ll bring in specials on a seasonal basis. We have a Guinness brat that we bring in and we sell at this time of year. It has a good flavor. We have a dozen different kinds of brats, but also wanted to be more than that. We got complete full menu. 

What’s your favorite meal here?

I hate to say this, but I pretty much like it all! (laughs) I like spicy food. I like the jalapeño brats, probably one of my favorites. I’ll eat a NY strip steak that’s really good. Ted makes homemade soups every day.  We got homemade chili. Beer cheese soup is pretty much a staple. He doesn’t know how to make a bad soup. We have a really good burger. We get our burgers made. We get our beef from Wisconsin River Brands too – try to make stuff as local as possible. Be the opposite of the big guys. We have specials on Tuesdays. We have $2 tacos that are pretty good. Wednesday we have a $3 brat. Thursday $3 burgers. Friday fish fry. Try to do all the Wisconsin flavor stuff.

So how did you come up with the name – The Brat House – did that come from you?

Yeah, we were kicking around a lot of things. And again, I didn’t have a liquor license initially so the hook was brats and beer – sort of a tailgate type of place - also trying to play off the architecture of the building. When I got it, the whole building was white until a couple years ago. I painted it this color and it had a HUGE impact. When it was white hardly anybody saw it.

Drove right by . . .

Oh yeah. All of a sudden I painted it and our sales went up. It’s really nice architecturally , a nice looking building. I think it’s the oldest public building in this part of the state. I mean there are houses around that were built around the same time or earlier…

But as far as public . . .


Can you tell me a little history about it?

It was built in 1850. It was a one room Baptist boy’s academy or school house. The Civil War came, and they basically closed the school down - because I assume all the boys went off to fight in the Civil War.  Then the local Methodist church bought it, and ran it as a church. I don’t really know the dates, but in 1896 they remodeled it. Then they turned it into what it is now.

You mentioned the big, beautiful stained-glass window out front. What’s with the letters GAR on it?

The GAR people always ask about it, and I’ll tell them that I was trying to spell “bar.” (laughs) That stands for the Grand Army of the Republic – which is the precursor to the VFW.

How much is that window worth? Did you ever get it appraised or anything like that?

It’s priceless. There is no way to replace it.  It’s 120 years old, so I really don’t know the value, but I think I got it insured for twenty thousand dollars or something. I would have to say if it weren’t for that window, there’s a real good chance I that I may have taken a bulldozer to this place and made it a parking lot! (laughs)

Being that the building is so old, do you know of any interesting stories that have taken place over the years?

Yeah there are some good ones. The peculiar thing about the building is that it’s said to be haunted.

I was going to ask you about that. Have you personally heard or witnessed any weird or peculiar things?

I personally have not, but I’ve had customers. People who would say that have an affinity for such things have told me that they have experienced things. That there was a little girl in the ladies room. That there was one of the previous clergy man hanging around. There have been a few occasions where employees have told me that something will happen, something will fall in an opposite part of the building where there isn’t anybody. Things like that.

But not enough that’s going to scare you away . . .

You know I’m a skeptic when it comes to such things – believing in science – but I’ve had enough people tell me things. That was when it was the Internet Café, but since we made it The Brat House I’ve not really heard many occasions. The staff might be able to come up with some things too, and as far as peculiar things happening, there’s probably a lot more going on around bar time! (laughs) I’m usually in bed by then.

Don’t want to have to deal with that?

Yeah, I like to have a couple drinks, but once I have a couple I like to go home! (laughs)

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Steve. I appreciate it!


After getting a tour of the place, I was then greeted in the kitchen by Ted Kaminski, who is General Manger of the Brat House.  Ted has been in the restaurant business his whole life, and while making me a delicious German Brat burger, he was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

How long have you worked at The Brat House?

I’ve been here about 3 years.

What’s your favorite aspect about the job?

What I really like about it is the ability to come up with special menus so that we’re not just doing the same thing day after day, because that gets kind of boring. Boring for your customers too. So you got to keep things fresh. Keep things new. Try to give them some reason to come back. 

Where do you come up with ideas for stuff – just trial & error?

Because that’s what I get paid to do! (laughs)

Did you go to school, or is this something you learned on your own?

Basically I learned from my father. I was at Chula Vista for sixteen years. I was the Executive Chef there, but this is a big change from that. But it’s kind of nice because I can be a lot more hands on here rather than just being an administrator and saying “Hey you’re doing a good job!” (laughs) Here I’m more hands on.

What’s your favorite meal?

Oh Jeez – the one I like right now is this German Brat Burger. That’s sort of nice because you take a brat patty, serve it on a pretzel bun, and then we got some sautéed mushrooms and onions on it. Some sauerkraut. Some Swiss cheese. Put it all together - put a little Dusseldorf mustard on the bun - you got a nice mix of flavors

You ever get any weird request for anything?

The other day one guy wanted one of our beer cheese brats and sauerkraut in a wrap. Now the thing with wraps is that you don’t have much there with just the sauerkraut and just the brat. Thank god they ordered sauerkraut with it – otherwise he would have it looking like a little cigar! (laughs)