Occupying a little more than three acres of trees and meadows just outside Sister Bay, Thyme Restaurant; its sister wine bar, Twelve Eleven; and an oversized Quonset hut catering hall are the culmination of a decades-long journey home for two of the peninsula’s hardest-working restaurateurs.
Although Thyme opened in 2021 in this location on Highway 57 just south of Sister Bay, owners Karl Bradley and his wife, Tonda Gagliardo, have been working in Door County’s food and wine industry for 28 years. Their tenure began at the late Mission Grille, which they helped to develop into one of the county’s early fine-dining spots during the late 1990s.
Bradley has been working in the kitchen since he was 16, but Thyme is the first restaurant kitchen he has owned.
“It’s great not leasing or renting from somebody – being able to take out a wall or add something, and not having to get permission,” he said.
After years of working in someone else’s space, they had the chance to design their dream. The restaurant is in a building that was a garage and furniture workshop, and the wine bar was a gallery and gift shop at various times.
With the help of Tim Raduenz – an architect who had been making wine in San Francisco and needed a wine bar in which to sell it – they created a restaurant with a large, open kitchen; a small bar where diners can watch dishes come together; and open-air seating on raked white gravel under the shade of a giant maple tree.
The buildings’ design draws on both Wisconsin and California influences, with its cedar-look reverse board-and-batten siding; rough-cut, 1-inch-by-4-inch boards around windows and doors; and wide, glass-and-steel garage doors that open wide on all three buildings so that guests can flow in and out. The Quonset hut event space features 20-foot-wide overhead doors.
“Everyone says it is ‘so San Francisco’ or is ‘very Wine Country,’” Gagliardo said. “It’s just open and very West Coast.”
Fine Dining, Accessible
The menu shows imagination and care. It offers flatbread pizzas on cauliflower crusts, beef and veggie burgers, a Cuban with in-house smoked pork, pecan salmon, General Tso’s chicken, risotto, curry-cumin roasted chicken thighs, and braised short ribs.
“The menu is understandable to people,” Gagliardo said.
“Several dishes came from the Mission Grille and have stayed with us,” Bradley said. “And some of the things that we’ve done here are similar to what we tried to do with the Mission Grille 20 or 25 years ago. That was kind of ahead of its time. When I think back, then it was a little more meat and potatoes. Now people are willing to try different things.”
Bradley and his brother, Brian, operate the kitchen with hardworking staff members who don’t mind creating a new menu item or two, such as the lemon-raspberry whipped ricotta on a small plate.
It was created by Rachel Aznoe, who was front of house at the Maxwelton Braes location, but she had always wanted to get into the kitchen, Gagliardo said.
“She’s young – just 25 years old – and she researches. She loves the nuances of finding out why things work together,” Gagliardo said.
The wine list is extensive, well priced and growing.
When Bradley and Gagliardo were at Mission Grille, they earned awards for their extensive wine list, which had more than 500 bottles.
“We had a second-level Wine Spectator award, one of the only five or six in the state at the time,” he said. “I’ve always been into wine, and that’s why, when I went to get out of the restaurant business, I sold wine for three years, but driving around in sales just wasn’t for me.”
Maxwelton Braes offered a kitchen for catering if Bradley and Gagliardo would also operate the restaurant, which drew him back into the restaurant world and gave them the chance to find a spot and develop it for Thyme. Bill Andersen, who owned Maxwelton Braes at the time, let them continue using the kitchen for catering until the new place was ready in 2022.
“He was great. He took care of us,” Bradley said.
Back to their Roots
Now the restaurateurs are happy to come full circle back to Sister Bay.
“We did really well staying open through the winter,” Bradley said, giving credit to the village. “I like Sister Bay. I don’t want to drive through it every day, but I am happy to see all the activity – especially after all the years we spent at the Mission Grille. There were times when it was like a ghost town in Sister Bay – before CHOP was there, and that whole block was just nothing. And there weren’t very many shops before they developed the beachfront property.”
But Bradley also appreciates Thyme’s location out on the edge.
“This is the perfect location for us,” he said. “It’s easy for us to get in and out of here for catering, and people have been finding us here, so we don’t have to be right in the mix of downtown. We aim for a fun, casual atmosphere – kind of a casual winery feel.”
Next door to Thyme, you’ll find Twelve Eleven wine bar, named after the address of the apartment where Tim Raduenz and Garret Torgerson lived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. They shared a love for wine, and because they’re both from Wisconsin – Raduenz from Luxemburg and Torgerson from Watertown – they decided to sell the wine they’d been making in Door County.
Raduenz had worked as a bartender at Mission Grille while doing an architecture internship with Hugh Mulliken in Ephraim two decades ago, and he stayed in touch with Bradley and Gagliardo for more than 20 years.
The wine shop’s general manager and partner is Liz Wuesthoff, from Mequon, who met what she calls “our renegade wine cowboys” at a wine bar in San Francisco.
Raduenz lives most of the year in Park City, Utah, where his business, Form One Design, is based, but he also spends a lot of time in California, where many of his clients live. He builds houses in Door County as well.
“Garret and I started making wine nine years ago as a hobby, and it exploded into almost a full-time job, and we needed a way to sell it,” Raduenz said. “I proposed to Karl and Tonda becoming partners in a property up here. That’s kind of how it started.”
Raduenz designed the new exteriors for the two existing buildings and created the Quonset hut design.
“I wanted to keep it a little bit homey feeling because it kind of feels like you’re eating in someone’s backyard,” he explained. “And that’s what we were trying to achieve with the overall look.”
But if the wine bar aims to look like someone’s backyard, the event space, with its corrugated steel, echoes an industrial form, picking from the farm look of Door and Kewaunee counties.
“It’s cool; it’s industrial; and it’s easy to build,” Raduenz said. “I’m just trying to do a good mix of slightly modern with a little bit of industrial and a little bit of farmhouse, I guess.”
To ease the chill of fall evenings and winter nights, the grounds have fire pits, heaters and a TerraFlame.
“It’s a super-cool, modern fireplace that we have, and when we light that, it’s cozy and warm,” Wuesthoff said. “We also have fuzzy blankets, and we’re working on making a little lounge area for this winter so that it’s more of a cozy place to hang out.”
The shop sells 12 wines by Twelve Eleven and eight, including a port, from other California winemakers.
“Our Barbara Rosé actually won Best in Class at the San Francisco wine competition, which is the largest wine competition in North America,” Raduenz said, and added that all their wines come from Mendocino County or Sonoma County.
They try new varieties depending on the fruit that’s available, and they present the wines in different ways. This year, for example, they’re offering Petit Verdot, which is usually used to soften Cabernet Sauvignon, as a single varietal.
Though focused on wine service, Twelve Eleven does offer a DIY charcuterie board that people can make with packaged meat and cheeses sold on-site.
The wine bar and restaurant interact all the time. Twelve Eleven customers can take their wine to Thyme or take food from Thyme to Twelve Eleven. Thyme will add the Twelve Eleven wine list to its own.
“Even though we are separate businesses, we are very much a team on this property and work together,” Raduenz said.
The wine bar features live music by local artists on weekends, special art classes, cheese-pairing events and industry nights. It all comes together to create an inclusive atmosphere, Wuesthoff said.
“People come to hang out, maybe go to dinner and come back to have port by the fire,” she said. “I have witnessed so many people become friends with other people because they just had the best time.”