Story by MARY CASEY MARTIN | Photos by HEIDI HODGES
“I started at 16 and I’m 47 now,” says Daubner, owner of The English Inn on Highway 42 just north of Fish Creek. Its sister location is just north of Green Bay on Highway 57.
Daubner, who purchased The English Inn in 2005, took over the business established by former owners Pete and Dort Kortes. And, like the Kortes’ before him, Daubner’s restaurant is a family-run business.
The location of the restaurant has a long history in Door County. In the mid ’60s, when Pete Kortes purchased the building, it was a popular roadside tavern known as The Parkway. In 1977, the Korteses—along with their children—invested in a total redo of the building, upgrading the bar into a cocktail lounge and adding a fireplace and several elegant dining areas in the spacious facility. The menu went upscale, too—with Beef Wellington and Brandy Alexanders as their signature entree and after-dinner drink.
By the time Daubner purchased The English Inn, he was a seasoned Door County restaurateur. From 1989 to 2000, he owned and operated Voight’s Supper Club (known today as Mink River Basin) in Ellison Bay. An ambitious undertaking for a 20-year-old, Daubner takes the accomplishment in stride.
“I was very gung ho back then. I still am,” he explained. Initially, he had a partner, but he bought out the restaurant after three years.
Randy continues as a hands-on business owner, in addition to managing day-to-day operations and cooking on the line.
Just as the Korteses worked side-by-side as a family at the helm of the English Inn, so does the Daubner family today—Randy’s oldest son, Nicolas, 24, runs the bar operations and son Tommy, 19, is kitchen manager. While Randy divides his time between his Fish Creek and Green Bay restaurants, his sons concentrate on Fish Creek.
The staff is also well-seasoned, having worked with Daubner through much of his career. When Daubner purchased The English Inn, he brought along staff, including Mary Jackson and her mother Kacey Landingham, who is the general manager.
Then, in 2015, Randy added a much-heralded second location just north of Green Bay at 3597 Bay Settlement Road (across from the BP gas station/Subway on County K).
Q & A with Randy Daubner
How did you get your start in the
“I’ve never been afraid of working hard. I learned on the job. I started cooking at Voight’s at age 16 and then, four years later, I bought the place. I kept the business name because it had a good reputation and because the liquor license had to stay in Phil Voight’s name until I turned 21.”
What inspired you to
re-establish The English Inn as a Door County
“When The English Inn opportunity came up, I had the chance to blend the past with the present. I like things to stay the same. So, I took some items from Voight’s, and a few of the earlier English Inn recipes, and then added my own. I don’t take anything off my current menu, I only add to it.”
What are your signature items?
“Beef Wellington, Brandy Alexanders and Cherry Spinach Salad with our cherry hot bacon dressing.”
About the new location in Green Bay—why would you add more to an already full plate?
“So the boys (Nicolas and Tommy) can start their own restaurant careers. I want them to have their space, yet in an established business. And as my sons are taking over the Fish Creek operation, they have no qualms about putting in a 70-hour-week, too. I drive back and forth a lot, but this location is their future.”
Your favorite sauce?
“Our house-made hot bacon salad dressings. Last year, more than half the people we served started their dinner with our spinach salad, which is drizzled with our hot bacon and cherry hot bacon dressings.”
What is the key to longevity in the
“Consistency. Good food and good service. And I’m very hands-on. I’m always watching my restaurants.” Daubner also includes continuing education. “Every year, I take 12 employees to California to learn perfect wine and food pairings and learn how the wine is made. We take one week of hands-on learning and fun on the West Coast.”
The Fish Creek location has metal sculptures—knights on horses—on each side of the entrance. Will the new Green Bay location be similar?
“Yes, a new stainless steel armored knight and horse by local craftsman Miles Amorelli of Sturgeon Bay will be added to the front of the Green Bay location. Miles is constructing the new piece so that the eyes of the horse will light up—in red.”
Do you stay open all winter?
“Yes. Our Fish Creek location will be open on Thanksgiving Day—that buffet is so popular, we serve about 600 people. After Thanksgiving, our Fish Creek location will be open Thursdays through Sundays. Green Bay is open seven days a week year round, but closed on Thanksgiving Day.”
Any additional plans for the Fish Creek restaurant?
“We are remodeling outside, adding a fountain and a moat so people can see fish beneath. The front entrance will look like a drawbridge. And we are adding outside dining. It’s going to be very nice. We’re hoping to have it ready by the end of November. It will have fire pit tables and ponds around. It will be more than eating outside, there will be ambiance.