August 9, 2022 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Hometown appeal: The Wheelhouse earns Business of the Year honors

When the Wheelhouse opened in 2017, it was unlike anything in St. Joseph.


And still is.


The farm-to-table restaurant owned by Ryan Rogiers and his wife, Abbie Layden-Rogiers, was selected as the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year. The restaurant will be honored at the annual chamber banquet on April 25.


The Wheelhouse is an environmentally friendly restaurant situated along the Kickapoo Rail Trail. The fresh meats, vegetables, fruits and cheese are locally sourced when possible.


Staying local was important to both Abbie, a former social worker and current realtor who now runs the front of the restaurant, and Ryan, who previously worked at Alinea, a Chicago restaurant ranked first in North America by S. Pellegrino.


“We opened up our restaurant in Saint Joseph because we are passionate about all things local,” Abbie said.


Abbie said buying local food benefits local farmers, which is important to the couple. As are the health benefits for their customers since the produce is organic and the fact that using local products creates less of an ecological footprint. 


“So, it made perfect sense for us to open up right in our hometown, so we are also local to the restaurant,” Abbie said.


The Wheelhouse was selected as Business of the Year because they host a variety of community events and have worked to make their restaurant a space where anyone in the community can feel welcome.


Abbie said that is something the couple has strived to do.


“I think as we’ve gotten older, along with the joy it has brought us to come back home, we both have a deeper understanding and appreciation for participating in community,” she said.


The couple said they are pleased they can provide a platform for people in the community to meet and speak with each other. This includes not only social events, like Trivia Night, but also hosting political meet-and-greets for candidates.


“It’s a great way for community members to get educated on local candidates,” Abbie said. “And our trivia nights are full of laughter.”


The restaurant also hosts poetry nights and live music.


“I think a small town is greatly expanded by making these events available and also greatly enriched,” Abbie said. “It’s  important to us that The Wheelhouse is a place where people can gather and have fellowship.”


The couple also said their staff was part of the reason the business was successful.


“We love our staff,” Abbie said. “We have a great staff. We all get along beautifully, they are reliable and good with people and do actually care about what they are doing.” 


Abbie said the couple has gained numerous friends from the Wheelhouse and have developed relationships that they value very much. It is also gratifying for the couple to watch their customers grow relationships with each other.


“All of the regulars know each other well now, and have great fondness for each other,” she said.  


For his part, Ryan said the best part of owning a restaurant is serving people, and Abbie agreed.


“My other favorite thing is to be in kitchen and hear people laughing out front,” she said. “It always makes me smile.”


Owning their own business that has become a village mainstay has come with some challenges.


Ryan stressed that owning a business isn’t for the faint of heart. Abbie echoed that sentiment and said the business means long hours, especially for Ryan.


“It feels like a never-ending to-do list,” she said. “The hardest part for me was the adjustment for our family.”


Abbie said it means less time with the kids, fewer dinners at the table and fewer chances to attend their children’s athletic events.


The couple said the financial part of owning a business is also huge and is a large financial risk.


“So on weeks that are slow, money is always on your mind,” Abbie said.


Still, the couple wouldn’t change a thing. They’ve found a fit in St. Joseph.


“One of the best things for me is meeting new people almost every day and getting to know more and more people in our town. ” Abbie said. “We are filled with so many interesting and wonderful people in St. Joseph.”

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