BizTimes Bubbler Executive of the Week: Dave Sobelman

Dave Sobelman, owner and founder of Sobelmans Pub & Grill
Company address: 1900 W. St. Paul Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233
Industry: Restaurant
Number of employees: 60 among all three restaurant locations
Family: Wife, Melanie; three kids; and a mother-in-law

What was the smartest thing your company did in the past year? 

“Well that would be putting the cheeseburger slider in the already overloaded Sobelmans Bloody Mary. This alone has gotten us international attention, and business is up about 25 percent or so.”

What’s new at your company?

“The Bloody Mary Masterpiece and some excellent new burgers and appetizers like bacon-wrapped jalapeño cheese balls, Sobel Shanks, and sweet potato breaded chicken strips!”

Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

“I’ll definitely be hiring new staff this summer as we spend at least $1,000 on new flowers and plants as well as outside patio furniture and add to our seating another 30-35 seats. We always need a handful, or more, of servers to take care of the outside seating. And with all of the bikers coming to town as well as word of Sobelmans traveling through social media, we expect to continue to be very busy.”

What will be your company’s main challenges in the next year? 

“Three things: The first is trying to keep my standards as high as we do while being so busy, which can be very tough. Second, continuing to do and offer so much out of such a small and limited space. The third, which is super important to my wife, Melanie, and me, is to make sure we don’t disappoint anyone. With 14 years in business, national attention and our social media presence, the expectations of some of our new and out-of-town customers can be very high. More than anything else it hurts to let these people down.”

How do you make your business stand out in Milwaukee’s competitive restaurant market?

“Really I just try to do my absolute best at all levels. From offering the best burgers and Bloody Mary to fun appetizers or the best local brews on tap to hiring a friendly and fun staff, I do whatever my instincts tell me.”

Do you have a business mantra?

“For years it’s been ‘Milwaukee’s Best Burgers,’ but more often lately what’s being said by us as well as others is ‘Classic Milwaukee.’ I have become convinced over the years that my Bloody Mary, the Cream City Brick building, local microbrews on tap, the atmosphere as well as my burgers are what make us so popular. We really do offer a ‘Classic Milwaukee’ experience.”

What was the best advice you ever received?

“It’s very difficult to answer this one as I don’t often get good advice. There have been a few occasions, but nothing really stands out. I always go to my wife first when unsure of something and then go with whatever she thinks.”

What’s your favorite Sobelmans meal?

“No real favorite meal – just many burgers that I like and am very proud of. Because of the new local attention on burgers, and now competition, I’ve had to really put my thinking cap on to stay sharp and on top. The Sobelman Burger is by far the most popular but some of the others, such as the Piggyback, Conway, Loser, Hangover, and Fresco, are excellent. A new burger I just came up with, the Carnevor, will be a meat lover’s dream. That thinking cap also helps when naming burgers.”

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?

“It’s maybe funny in hindsight but getting my butt kicked in front of friends, family, staff and the whole country on the TV show ‘Food Wars.’ One should always have a bit of self-deprecating humor. That year, though, was the first year I won every local burger contest, and I’ve won every one ever since. What am I going to do?”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“Anyone who really knows me can tell you that I like to work, work out, have festive meals, eat, and drink with my wife and family. That’s it!”

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