The Strand re-opens with new ownership

SISTER LAKES — Sitting on the patio at The Strand Brewery and Restaurant, one can take a deep breath and admire the sunshine dancing over Round Lake. The sound of country music playing fills the air as drinks and southern style barbecue arrives at the table.

In April, The Strand Restaurant announced it would be opening under new ownership. Fast forward to Tuesday, and The Strand was finally able to open its doors to diners to come see what Matthew Weil and his team have been working on.

On its first night open, even at 50 percent seating capacity to comply with COVID-19 mandates, Weil said all of the available seating was full, and the establishment had a waiting list.

Weil has spent more than 24 years in the restaurant business. His passion comes through when he speaks about his businesses and his crews’ work at each location. With the bulk of his businesses in Illinois, including four locations of Firewater barbecue and Brew and two more being built, and Whiskey Hill Brewing Company, Weil was drawn in by the beauty and potential he saw at Sister Lakes.

“The setting is unbelievable. The venue is unbelievable,” Weil said. “I really felt like I could bring a phenomenal dynamic of food and craft beer from my experience and concepts in Illinois.”

That experience brings three major players: barbecue, craft beer and bourbon.

“I felt the area really lacked a place where you could get some great, southern-style barbecue,” Weil said. “The beer direction needed a relaunch. We redid the entire menu. The location is was beautiful, and I could see the potential. I felt like we could make a lot of people happy.”

For the barbecue, Weil is excited to bring his expertise to the tables of diners.

“That’s really our forte,” Weil said. “The process of the meat preparation is wet-rubbed, dry rubbed, and we allow them to set for 72 hours.”

Weil takes pride in the time and effort that goes into the meat even before it gets cooked “low and slow.”

He learned about barbecue from a friend who worked the circuit. He studied it and worked on perfecting it at a weekend job he had. Trips to Memphis and Nashville helped fuel his education and passion.

“We basically designated two pit masters to only work that pit,” Weil said of the barbecue operation.

To pair with the food offerings, Weil is also working on bringing a diverse menu of craft brews to The Strand. The use of specific hop profiles, American hops and grain, and specifically Michigan hops and grains, is something Weil is passionate about.

“I really felt like the new direction for The Strand needs to be summer forward beers,” Weil said. “People who come from Chicago want to taste something different. The biggest thing [The Strand] was missing was the big, hype beers. The really creative, new styles of beers.”

Weil looks to include milkshake IPAs, New England-style IPAs, Midwest brews and session ales in The Strand’s offerings. IPAs, or India Pale Ales, are known to be a hop-forward brewed beer. He is excited to bring the “gateway” IPAs to the summer crowds, to have them try something unique, like a piña colada milkshake IPA.

In addition to offering the community and summer visitors a wider selection of brew, Weil wants to ensure another southern staple is appreciated: bourbon.

“We’ve really taken a firm stance that The Strand is going to be a really great destination for bourbon,” Weil said. “We have probably the most unique and expansive selection in the Sister Lakes area.”

He envisions guests sipping a bourbon neat over a giant ice cube and enjoying an Old Fashioned, while taking in the beauty of Sister Lakes.

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