August 2012

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live in a man's world Jack von Rutenberg Serving up good times—with fries on the side By Tuesday Wustrack Seated in Th e Mariner's Inn, you can see why Jack von Rutenberg has fallen in love with his work. It's the kind of place where the hum of family and friends fi lls the air and the cool summer wind drifts in from Lake Mendota, all while a tasty dinner is being cooked up behind closed doors. Whether at the rope-lined bar or tucked away in one of the restaurant's many nooks and crannies, it's a place that von Rutenberg treats like home—and with good reason. Co-owner of the restaurant, along with a collection of eateries and waterfront businesses including the Nau-Ti-Gal, Betty Lou Cruises and more, von Rutenberg is part of a family enterprise. It started with his parents, Bill and Betty, who began with an eight- seat hamburger joint and expanded into the small empire he and his brothers, Bill and Robert, manage today as von Rutenberg Ventures. Now tasked with handling much of the business operations, von Rutenberg still knows it's about more than dollars and cents—it's about maintaining the establishments that have become part of the fabric of Madison. After chatting about his work and passions, the businessman façade fades into a contemplative guy who took an unlikely path to land back where he started, with family. Did you always want to work in the family business? No. My parents pushed us away from the business if anything. Th ey said, 'Do whatever you want.' So I went to the University of Wis- consin School of Medicine for a year. I enjoyed it, but after working at the restaurants to make extra money, all of a sudden it hit me. It's not really a career—it's a lifestyle. You don't really go to work. It's part of your life. [So I started my career with] the family business. What is it like to work with your brothers every day? We have our moments, but then you realize everyone is trying to accomplish the same goal. Th e communication is better in a way because you can just lay it on the line. You might have to sugar coat it if it's a non-family member in management with you, but when it's a brother, you can tell it like it is. This year the Nau-Ti-Gal turns 30, and Betty Lou Cruises turns 15. What is the most rewarding part of owning those businesses? My mom used to say that when it's a busy night and everything is working and clicking, it's like hosting your own cocktail party at your house, except you don't wake up with a hangover. I think there's a lot in that saying, because it isn't like work. It's about re- lationships. It's not really that we're in the food business. We're in a relationship business where we happen to sell food and beverages. Quick Questions with von Rutenberg What is your favorite summer activity on the lake? I love anything on the water. Sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, tubing with my kids. 26 BRAVA Magazine Any vacation plans? We were recently in the Florida pan- handle. It was awesome. We went there for spring break. What is your favorite beer or wine to go with steak? I love local craft beers. I couldn't narrow them down because they're all great. August 2012 What is your favorite dish on any of the restaurants' menus? Anything from steamed shrimp with a beer to a fancy shrimp dinner. Where is your favorite place to travel for seafood? Califor- nia, the East Coast and the Gulf Coast. I like to try new twists on things. Von Rutenberg Ventures has been a part of community outreach by awarding scholarships, promoting lake safety and sponsoring events like the upcoming Figure 8 on the Lakes benefi tting REACH a Child. What inspires you to give back? Each [undertaking] has its own motivation, but I think deep down, everybody knows, if it feels right inside, you do it. [Th e events we support] gravitate a little more toward sports, water and kids be- cause we [have personal connections to those things]. Do you want your kids to take over the business when you retire? I would never encourage them to do it unless they have a passion for it. And if they don't, that's totally fi ne. At this point, it doesn't appear that any of them do, but I look back and I didn't have any desire to do it until I was in my mid-20s. Who knows? ••• Photo by Tyler Robbins

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