Cannery Grill to make way for Nitty Gritty Sun Prairie - The Star: Business

Cannery Grill to make way for Nitty Gritty Sun Prairie - The Star: Business

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Cannery Grill to make way for Nitty Gritty Sun Prairie

Cannery Grill’s last day is October 12

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 2:30 pm

Sun Prairie can say goodbye to the Cannery Burger on Saturday – but it will have to wait about a month to say hello to The Gritty Burger.

That’s because The Cannery Grill is closing on Saturday, Oct. 12 to make way for The Nitty Gritty Sun Prairie, which is scheduled to open in mid-November.

“It’s been a good run,” remarked Bob Walgenbach, former owner of The Cannery Grill said during an interview on Tuesday, Oct. 8, when he was finalizing plans to close the establishment on Oct. 12. Food and drink specials will be offered in celebration of the grill’s last days.

Walgenbach was asked to take the business over from his partners about two years ago, and admitted there were some bumps in the road which resulted in a dip in business.

The result was to place the building up for sale, Walgenbach said, at a deeply discounted price. After some elongated and legally testy negotiations, the sale took place.

The Nitty Gritty Sun Prairie – the chain’s third Dane County location — will be owned by current downtown Nitty Gritty owners Suemnicht (CEO) and Lee Pier (CFO), as well as five other key employees (Jason Riewe-GM, Michael Leto-GM, James Fanone-GM, Brandi Hintze-Marketing and Meggie Johnson-HR).

Between the ownership team, the group has more than 80 years of experience managing the Nitty Gritty.

“We are so excited to open our newest location and include some of the hard working managers that have helped with our success over the years. They deserve the opportunity, and we have always promoted a family atmosphere with our employees,” remarked Suemnicht. “We have been looking for a location on the east side of Madison for some time, and we absolutely love the Sun Prairie community. The area continues to grow, and we hope to provide the vibrant downtown area with a place for all ages.”

Suemnicht said in an interview Thursday that a downtown location was important.

“Our mission is to open up a Nitty Gritty in much the same way,” Suemnicht said, referring to the casual, family-friendly atmosphere that includes a full line of craft beers, shakes, and burgers. “Basically staying true to what we do well.”

Suemnicht said his partners and he were looking for a location on the east side.

“We love the community – it’s obviously growing,” he said of Sun Prairie. “We love the location and being downtown was important. We looked at plenty of places but when we walked into the Cannery my business partner and I looked at each other and said ‘This is the place.’

The restaurant will be closed for about a month to do some remodeling that will include the banquet room. Most of the focus will be on remodeling the dining room and the bar area, installing booths and other cosmetic changes.

“Everything’s going to get a coat of paint, everything is going to get freshened up a bit,” Suemnicht said. Contractors are already doing some work off-site.

Eighty-five to 90 percent of the employees at the Cannery Grill will be retained, including the existing manager. Part of the time the restaurant is closed will also be used to train the employees for the new menu and The Gritty culture.

Suemnicht and his partners spent months talking with people in Sun Prairie about locating a Nitty Gritty in the community. “We think we’ve got a concept that works well with the citizens of Sun Prairie,” he added.

The banquet room may be a challenge, Suemnicht said, because neither of the two other Nitty Gritty locations have such a space. He said the look of the room will be updated to include more historical photos to blend with the décor in the remainder of the restaurant.

The banquet room may also have an event menu, similar to the other Nitty Gritty locations. “It’s an opportunity for us to do something different than we’re doing right now,” Suemnicht said.

The management team is excited about the Sun Prairie location.

“We can’t get open fast enough,” Suemnicht said, adding that the Nitty Gritty plans to be at Downtown Fall Fest on Oct. 19. “That will kind of be the first opportunity for us to meet the community.”

The original Nitty Gritty was established in downtown Madison in 1968 by former sportscaster and Madison icon Marsh Shapiro near the UW-Madison campus. In its early days, the Nitty Gritty was a blues music venue featuring live music seven nights a week. In 1985, it became Madison’s Official Birthday Place.

The Middleton location, the second Dane County Nitty Gritty, is located at 1021 N. Gammon Road.

More about The Gritty

For those not familiar, the Nitty Gritty is famous for its burgers, particularly the Gritty Burger. The menu also features a variety of sandwiches, salads, wraps and milkshakes, including several vegetarian and gluten free options.

The Nitty Gritty serves locally sourced foods from vendors including Fountain Prairie Farms, Slacks Farm, Jones Dairy Farm and Madison Sourdough Company along with Wisconsin cheeses from Carr Valley, Mindoro Creamery, Weyauwega Star and Cedar Grove Cheese.

On birthdays, Nitty Gritty patrons are greeted with a birthday balloon and a keepsake memento mug. In that mug, birthday celebrants receive free tap beer, specialty birthday cocktails or fountain soda.  

Each celebrant’s name also gets placed on the Nitty Gritty’s light-up birthday board while a birthday bell is rung. All birthday names are announced several times each day before the playing of a special birthday song. Over the years, birthday celebrants have ranged in age from 24 hours old to 108 years old. Nearly 600,000 birthdays have been celebrated at the Madison and Middleton locations.

Visit for more information about the newest location in Sun Prairie.

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