“The two-chef dynamic doesn’t work all the time, but me and Dan, we found the sweet spot,” says Dan Jacobs, co-owner with Dan Van Rite of DanDan, EsterEv (an intimate dining experience located inside of DanDan with a guest-chef series) and Fauntleroy, all located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. The duo’s JVR Group are also the consultants creating the forthcoming Ash inside The Iron Horse Hotel. “We’re better together than we are apart,” says Jacobs.
DanDan—what they describe as farm-to-table Chinese—was the first to open, in 2016. French-infused Fauntleroy opened last year. “[Ash’s] menu centers around the hearth, a return to real primal cooking,” says Jacobs.
Both Jacobs and Van Rite were semi- finalists for James Beard Award Best Chef Midwest (2018 and 2019) and Van Rite was nominated three times while at the since-shuttered Hinterland in Milwaukee (2010, 2011 and 2012).
The duo met when Jacobs (new in town from Chicago) interviewed with Van Rite (a Green Bay native who dropped out of UW-Milwaukee’s architecture school for culinary school in Oregon) at Hinterland. Jacobs took a job at Roots, another Milwaukee restaurant (which has since closed), but the two connected.
“We both got tired of working for other people,”says Van Rite, whose girlfriend Sara Nardi creates DanDan’s wine list. Jacobs’ wife—ceramics artist Kate Riley—creates their dishes and platters. They remain proud of their staff’s longevity, thanks to competitive salaries and paid time off.
“Neither of us has ever worked in a Chinese restaurant,” says Jacobs. Yet they knew they needed to taste as much Chinese food as possible before opening DanDan. “We had an option to spend three to four weeks in China or travel around America. We opted to travel to five different cities in America.” This includes Flushing, in Queens, N.Y., as well as Ha Long Bay in Madison.
Similarly, to prepare for opening Fauntleroy, the duo spent four days eating their way around Paris with culinary director Matt Haase. “It’s French, but it’s not your parents’ French,” says Jacobs about Fauntleroy’s menu. “It’s not crazy-expensive to open a restaurant here, unlike Chicago or Los Angeles. What we’re doing at the Fauntleroy, there’s no way we could do this in Chicago. It would be so expensive at this price point.”
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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