With a brand-new pizza oven just delivered, the last thing Green Room restaurateur Brian Lee had in mind was selling the place. Chris Kronberg and Samantha Rink, owners of Havana Comida Latina restaurant, were sipping beers in the Green Room on June 28 and chatting with friend Richard Barrett (sales coordinator for Lee’s other business venture, the Altamont). Rink recalls the moment their destiny changed: “We were sitting at the bar, and I said to Richard, ‘We should take over this place.’”
With its wood floors, exposed brick and high ceilings, the Green Room looks the part of a traditional bistro. Live music is performed up front, tempting passers-by as they stroll quiet Church Street. In contrast, major construction is set to commence on the crumbling building housing Havana; Kronberg, Rink and third partner Kurt Langkau had already decided they needed a new location. “The state stepped in mandating a multimillion-dollar roof repair,” Kronberg says.
Lee admits to some indecision. “I thought, ‘It sounds good, but we’re just starting on this new path,’” he says, referring to the new wood-fired pizza oven and plans to revise the menu. Although the gears were already in motion on the new plans, when Lee pulled back and looked at things objectively, selling made sense. “I can start another restaurant later if I’m crazy enough,” Lee says. “But my kids are 9 and 6; you don’t get a second shot at that.”
“Between the condos and events at the Altamont, we’ve got our hands full,” Barrett adds.
On the morning of June 29, Lee met with the Havana partners and banged out an agreement. Just a few hours later Kronberg met with another happy coincidence. “Chef Randy Boyd came in saying he wanted to work with me, and my eyes lit up,” Kronberg recalls. “That was the missing piece; we needed a quality chef, and he was my first choice. We closed Havana Sunday at 4 and opened at Green Room Tuesday at 11:30.”
Barrett will continue as booking manager for Green Room’s music. Although the music will remain, Green Room’s menu is gone. Kronberg has been waiting to prepare and serve the food he loves since before they took over Havana. “We inherited that menu and inherited the problems at Havana,” Kronberg explains. This time around, he is choosing to craft his own fare with the help of his chefs. Inspired by their grandmothers’ recipes, everything is made from scratch using fresh ingredients.
Along with the new menu, the restaurant will get a new name, to be officially revealed in a few weeks. “It’ll be something like Foggy Mountain,” Kronberg says, a tribute to his favorite bluegrass band, The Foggy Mountain Boys. “Chris got me addicted to bluegrass,” Rink says.
The menu runs the gamut from small bites such as a BLT pasta salad with bacon dripping vinaigrette ($6) to the larger almond-and-herb-crusted trout ($12), with plenty of choices in between including designer burgers, panini and mini-calzones. Vegetarian offerings include creamy lemon-garlic hummus served with veggies and warm pita, signature salads and a baked Wisconsin five-cheese mac with a garlic-Parmesan crust. And just for nostalgia’s sake, there’s the Hav-a-na Good Time Cuban sandwich.
The Green Room, 12 Church St. Open daily 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.