Mike Holmes woke from a crazy restaurant-service nightmare Wednesday, only to learn a few minutes later that his restaurant had achieved one of his dreams.
“I was having this dream where it was the height of COVID, and we were having to do Wickman service at my parents’ house,” Holmes said. “Then I woke up, and we were looking at the James Beard nominations and said, ‘Wait, that says ‘Wickman House, Ellison Bay’!”
That listing was under the 20 nominations from around the country for Outstanding Restaurant – one of the top awards for the most prestigious accolades in the culinary world. Outstanding Restaurant honors an establishment that “demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality and operations, while contributing positively to its broader community.”
That description fits Wickman House well.
“There’s definitely the ethos of, we gotta make this world better,” Holmes said. “It’s including everyone at your table and in your workforce. A place where everyone feels safe and good, and make it sustainable in an industry that really takes a lot from the land.”
The honors have been given since 1991 to the best chefs and restaurants in the country, and this James Beard Award nomination is the first for a Door County restaurant. The list will be winnowed further March 29, and the winners will be honored June 5.
“It’s for the team,” Holmes said – particularly the restaurant’s team of chefs, general manager Josh Miller, and Holmes’ longtime sidekick behind the bar, Travis Ward. “What it means to me is all the hard work is honored. We’re doing the thing we set out to do, and hopefully we can recruit some more talent to this area and fulfill our mission and make everyone’s lives and community better. Something like this will attract more talent to our pool. It’s not about the other stuff; it’s that we’re doing it because we believe in a mission. Come to Door County, an amazing location, and help us do something great.”
Wickman House opened in 2012 and quickly earned a great reputation for its food and atmosphere, and later – once a liquor license was secured – for its extensive craft-cocktail menu. Holmes had worked behind the bar in its previous incarnation as T. Ashwell’s in the late 1990s and early 2000s before moving to New York and discovering the craft-cocktail and culinary scene there. He came back determined to bring that scene to Ellison Bay.
“I didn’t get into this because I want to get rich,” Holmes said. “It’s an industry I understand, I like creating something where people can have a good time and feel welcome.”