A valley of wine, pizza, and pasta
At first glance, there aren't many apparent correlations between working in radio and running a restaurant. That unique combination of career paths, though, seems to work just fine for Larry Brenner.
Brenner has spent his life working hard as an account executive in the Twin Cities radio industry. At 54 years old, he said he figured he'd want a second job to fall back on once he retires from that work. So, in 2007, he took a cornfield in a Wisconsin river valley and transformed it into an open-air restaurant serving pizzas and Italian food. His venture is called Vino in the Valley. He said the business has grown beyond his wildest dreams.
"The people come here and everybody feels like they are on vacation," he said. "They're all there to have fun and to have a party. I get hugs from people when they leave - people that I don't even know. They say they can't wait to bring their friends back. It has turned out even better than what I had imagined when I put the business plan together. It's just generally a lot of fun."
Located eight miles east of Ellsworth, Wis., Vino in the Valley is open four days a week. It's not a place to go for a quick bite to eat, but rather a place to go for a night. Reservations are only accepted for parties of 10 or more, and even those are pretty hard to come by. Guests are encouraged to come by in no rush and pass the time by milling about the grounds.
The Rush River whisks along nearby. Guests can take a walk through the vineyard, they can sit by a bonfire, listen to live music or spend time at a small bar next to the vineyard.
"We tell people, if you want a quick in-and-out dinner, go to Applebee's," Brenner said. "If you want to have a unique experience and have a great meal, that's what we are here for."
When guests are called for dinner, many opt to begin the dining with an order of Italian nachos - tri-colored chips covered in Italian sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers and all kinds of cheese. Popular main courses are build-your-own brick oven pizzas and one of a number of pasta dishes, such as shrimp linguini, chicken fettucine and portabella mushroom ravioli.
For dessert, Vino in the Valley features a turtle ice cream cake from Flat Pennies in Bay City, Wis. It's comprised of two round ice cream cakes with caramel, fudge, pecans and whipped cream.
Then there's the wine. There are three house wines made for Vino in the Valley, and all are made by Northern Vineyards in Stillwater, Minn. A number of wines are also available by the glass or the bottle.
Vino in the Valley is open from May through October. They opened in 2013 on May 9. The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday.