Black Rooster Bistro is bringing a hyper-local eating experience to downtown Hudson, Wisconsin. The new arrival, nestled in a basement location formerly occupied by Winzer Stube, a German restaurant, is the brainchild of Hudson High School graduate Nichole Frazer and her husband and executive chef, Rick Frazer.
Don’t let the speakeasy-esque setting fool you; Black Rooster’s regional menu and relaxing setting add up to an eating experience that Rick dubs “familiar but elevated.” With classics like pork chops, roasted chicken and duck—paired with items including roasted carrots, butternut squash and fennel, honey and game jus. Behind the bar, crowd favorites like the Campfire Old Fashioned (featuring homegrown marshmallow root syrup) and the Proper Lady (made with tea-infused gin) pair well with an ever-changing bar menu of quick, mouth-watering snacks.
And while the Frazers are looking to “change a lot of minds” with Black Rooster’s elevated regional cuisine, they’ve devoted a portion of their menu to the Winzer Stube heritage. “We still do the apple strudel and the mushroom soup. There’s the same guy back there doing some of the same stuff,” Rick says.
It’s a Hudson legacy that the Frazers are excited to build upon. As we chat over a plate of ricotta dumplings, just four months after Black Rooster’s opening, the pair settle into a comfortable rhythm, punctuated by laughter, fascinating tangents and the stories that have defined them—together and apart.
Ricotta Dumplings with spinach, bacon, pesto and parmesan
The pair met a decade ago working at Cravings Wine Bar & Grille in Woodbury, and the years that followed have been a whirlwind of activity, with the two getting married, moving to Hudson and building a home with their daughters, Maren (14) and Lilly (12).
“It’s always been my dream to open a restaurant in the town I live in,” Rick says. “I’ve just always romanticized the idea of … going to the high school and [seeing] the billboards on the fence of the baseball field. I’d like one day for my name to be up there.”
The Oakdale native has developed a stacked resume since graduating from Minneapolis’ Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, most recently serving as executive chef of The St. Paul Grill. But it’s a passion for cooking and camaraderie that perpetually pulls him back into the kitchen, where you’ll find him every night, alongside his staff at Black Rooster.
Nichole has been in the restaurant industry for years as well, having spent the last four leading the bar program at Stillwater’s Brick & Bourbon. At Black Rooster, she’s both the general manager and creative force behind the ingenious cocktail menu, though she can more often be found slinging drinks and waiting tables than behind a desk.
Proper Lady cocktail with infused gin, cointreau, lemon and egg white
Black Rooster is an amalgamation of the duo’s collective passion and skills, refined over the years and finally pushed into being by a pandemic, of all things, when the Frazers were both laid off.
“We finally got to the point where we were like, ‘Do we want to be in a nursing home when we’re 80 [wishing] we would’ve taken the chance? Or should we just roll the dice and go for it?’” Rick says.
A chance Google search led them to Winzer Stube, and, after a process that was far from a fairytale (it took a purchase agreement falling through for the Frazers to get the building), Black Rooster opened its doors in late March 2022, two months after Winzer Stube closed.
In that time, the Frazers simplified the space by taking down any visual distractions in favor of a clean, focused setting. “It was a very busy atmosphere down here before, and so we went opposite of that and really stripped down to … the old wood and the old stone, making those the focal points,” Nichole says.
The 110-seat dining room is a soothing blend of light and shadow, crimson and green. Ceiling lights play up the exposed wood beams, and golden table lamps illuminate the tucked-away vinyl booths. A trendy neon sign and Edison string-lights hanging over the bar reveal the building’s distinct stone walls. It resembles a cellar as much as a speakeasy, though with a refined atmosphere typical of a beloved neighborhood restaurant.
Black Rooster’s 12-person team enjoys a two-day weekend (the restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays) to support the Frazers’ vision for a balanced workplace that supports families. “We are who we are because we’re also parents,” says Nichole. With this mentality, the staff has the rare luxury of working a full-time schedule in the restaurant business, and a wealth of knowledge that both Frazers share willingly.
“[Rick] loves to teach. It makes him the perfect chef for a new restaurant like this,” Nichole says. “It’s his menu, but it’s a 17-year-old that just cooked your duck to perfection. We’re like a family here.”
“We’re a crazy motley crew,” Rick adds. “It’s a restaurant full of passionate people doing what they love, which is putting out the best food, the best drink and giving the best experience that we can.”
It’s the community angle that the Frazers pitch to new customers, and rightly so. Protein comes from a butcher “up the hill,” and produce is often hand-picked by Rick on his way into town each morning. Though guests won’t find Tito’s Handmade Vodka behind the bar, they will be introduced to spirits from 45th Parallel Distillery in New Richmond, Wisconsin, Midwest-made brews and a variety of locally produced and sourced wines. Anything that can’t be found within the area is delivered by regional distributors.
“The more local small businesses we can support with our local small business; that’s our dream come true,” Nichole says.
Their tagline “Stay Hungry” plays off the same legend that fuels Black Rooster’s name. The Gallo Nero is the historic symbol of the wines of Chianti Classico, inspired by a story of rivalries and the hunger of one early rising black rooster that cemented control of the Chianti territory for the Florentines.
“That black rooster that was up before dawn. That’s what sealed the deal for us with naming the restaurant, because that’s exactly how we’re going to run [it],” Nichole says. “We’re going to be up early. We’re dedicated. We’re here all the time, staying hungry like that rooster. We want to provide the best experience for our guests, and we’re both here to ensure that happens. That’s just who we are.”
And they’re already looking ahead with ideas in the works for a craft cocktail class and five-course wine pairing dinner. “Now that we have this space under our feet, we can keep moving forward and moving up,” Nichole says. As the Frazers recount recent moments of challenge and success, seated with ease in the restaurant they built, it’s clear they’ve found the purpose and fulfillment they once dreamed of.
“Everybody hears the cliché, ‘When you work for yourself, you never work a day in your life,’ and I really feel that,” Rick says. “There are days that it’s tough, but when I go behind the line and start talking to the guys and the tickets start coming in, nothing else matters.
“You don’t get into this industry to become a millionaire; you get into this industry because you love it,” Rick says. “If you keep your focus on that, everything else falls into place.”
Rick and Nicole Frazer
Rapid fire Q+A with the Frazers
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
Nichole: You’re supposed to say something I made.
Rick: Oh. I was going to say Demi, in Minneapolis.
N: Oh yeah, we went there for your birthday. It was a 20-course tasting menu.
R: It was crazy. They shaved fresh truffles on everything.
So, now you [Nichole] have to say something Rick’s made!
N: The ravioli with the chicken and the sage butter.
R: Oh yeah, I still have to figure that one out, because I don’t remember.
N: You make it, and then you don’t write down the recipe, and I’m like, ‘That was the best thing ever’ and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what I did!’ It was delicious.
What’s an ingredient you can’t live without?
N: Vodka. My recipes don’t have food!
What about a more creative ingredient that you love?
R: Gochujang. That’s been my go-to recently. It’s a fermented chili paste that’s sweet and spicy. It’s in a few of our daily soups and in the honey for our pork chop glaze.
Do you have a second passion?
N: Coffee. I need a lot of coffee.
R: I don’t do it enough, but I’d say reading.
How do you spend a day off in Hudson?
N: I try to spend as much of my day outside. We swim in the pool. We sit on the deck. I garden, clean the chicken coop, hunt Morel mushrooms. I just want to be outside. That’s what fuels my soul.
R: Recently, I’m kind of on the same kick.