Ribbon snipped at Rustic Smokehouse
By Ryan Whisner firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rustic Smokehouse and Bar in Fort Atkinson held its formal grand-opening celebration this past
weekend. Located at the former Stockade Restaurant building on Fort Atkinson’s northwest side, the
smokehouse has operated for about seven months.
It marks the third restaurant in the Fort Atkinson community owned within one family. Valbon Beqiri
and Bekim Lumani own and operate Rustic Smokehouse.
“For over 25 years, Valbon Beqiri’s family has invested in Fort Atkinson’s restaurant scene, beginning
with The Riverfront Family Restaurant, started by his father, Neim Beqiri, and uncle, Bekim Lumani,”
Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carrie Chisholm said. “That
establishment helped plant the seed for Valbon to open The Brickhouse Pizzeria & Pub in 2011, and
now, the third restaurant in the family business, The Rustic Smokehouse.
“Fort Atkinson is fortunate to have this young entrepreneur, a graduate from Fort Atkinson High
School and UW-Whitewater, build his future in our community,” she added. “All three businesses are
members of our chamber, and have been since their inception. We are so thankful for their ongoing
investment in our city.”
On Friday, a ribbon-cutting celebrating the grand opening and the restaurant’s admission to the
chamber was held.
It is the second restaurant owned by Valbon, a 2016 Fort Atkinson High School graduate. Growing up, he did spend plenty of time working at both the Riverfront Family Restaurant in Fort
Atkinson and locations in Jefferson and Marshall which his father ran.
Valbon went on to study business, earning a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in
“Going through college, I denitely had the mindset of I wanted to be able to ‘work for myself,” Valbon
said. “Restaurants was something I had kind of grown up with and I thought my strongest traits and
personality lean toward customer service and social interaction with people. I think it best ts in the
restaurant environment, where I can be a great host and also be able to manage a bunch of different
personalities and get everyone on the same page of one goal: to serve a good product at a good price.”
He pitched the concept of the Brickhouse Pizzeria to his father in 2011 and then opened later that
year on the city’s south side.
Over those seven years, Valbon said, he has learned a lot about the business.
“When this building came up for sale, we were kind of interested in coming in here,” he said of the
Rustic Smokehouse’s location.
The city had hoped the site would be used by a new restaurant, not an existing one moving there.
Originally opened in March 1999 as the The Stockade Restaurant and Pub, the restaurant was located
on the site of what used to be Crescent Beauty Farms and featured historical photographs and other
memorabilia on the walls and tables. In addition, items from then current Fort Atkinson businesses
were featured in laminated tables.
The restaurant closed in the summer of 2008.
In December 2009, the late Randy Schopen of the former Capn’s Corner in Jefferson purchased the
former Stockade Restaurant and after an overhaul, opened Capn’s Steakhouse and Saloon. He died
unexpectedly two years later and the restaurant continued for a number of years under his co-owner
and general manager, Mike Dunham.
Eventually, the site closed again in 2017 and Valbon and Lumani purchased it to develop The Rustic
Smokehouse and Bar.
“We bought it rst and then came up with a concept that is not around, and that is how we came up
with the whole smokehouse idea,” Valbon said. “We didn’t want to to be a normal bar or tavern grill
place. We wanted to specialize in one thing, do it well and then we would be known for that.”
Since being acquired, the building has undergone a complete interior renovation.
“The only thing that is the same is the ceiling and the bathrooms,” Valbon said. “Everything else was
torn out or is brand new. It was a complete renovation.”He said that in general, he wanted to add more color and make it a fun environment.
“We wanted to make it cozy,” he said. “It is a big space, but it works well for what we wanted to do.”
The decor comes from a combination of ideas he got from traveling around the country. Valbon acknowledged that many of the mistakes he had made when rst opening Brickhouse were
addressed for the initial opening of The Rustic back in November.
“The opening here was very smooth; there were no long wait times,” he said.
The restaurant is operated with a staff of 35 employees. The owner pointed out that there has been
relatively low turnover, which is uncommon in the restaurant business.
“We’ve been able to retain good people that want to work here,” Valbon said. “The way we opened up
the restaurant has far surpassed our expectations.”
He noted that the delay in hosting a grand opening was to give the staff time to get settled.
“I wanted to wait until we got ourselves together,” he explained.
Also, The Rustic Smokehouse recently added some new items to the menu, which presented an
opportunity to showcase to the community.
Valbon said 90 percent of the menu is all smoked meat, including brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken.
Some of the additional items recently added include more sandwiches, wraps and salads.
Throughout any given week, he said, chef Jonathan Cross will add in some unique specials.
“The advantage of having a creative chef is that he is able to give you a different dynamic that you
won’t nd in another restaurant here in town,” Valbon said.
Since opening in November, Valbon said, the residents of Fort Atkinson and the surrounding area have
been receptive to the Rustic.“We’ve had great reviews; people have been really happy with it,” he said.
For those who missed the weekend festivities of the grand opening, the Rustic will be hosting live
music again on Sunday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Sept. 2. The Rustic is open from 3 p.m. until close, Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to close on Saturday and
Sunday. Valbon said they are looking to add more lunch-friendly options in the future, which likely would alter the hours.