Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Make a good drink, and people will gather.
Cook a good burger, they’ll come back for more.
Treat them as good friends, and they’ll never leave your side.
These theories have played out in spades for Kerry Knutson, owner of Knute’s Bar & Grill and The Liquor Barn in Orfordville.
Since opening Knute’s more than 20 years ago, the Janesville native’s award-winning fish fries and catering have turned his tavern into a destination spot for locals and travelers alike. His dedication to volunteerism has gained him goodwill from the community, not to mention recognition from the Orfordville Fire Department, the Orfordville American Legion and inclusion in The Gazette’s 2009 “50 Who Matter” list.
A 1981 Parker High School graduate, Knutson is the youngest of four boys (Bob, Bruce and Brad). He now lives in Footville with his wife, Shari, and his children—son Adam, 30, and daughter Abby, 27—both work for him. Knutson also has three step-sons and nine grandchildren.
1. Explain how you ended up in the hospitality business. I got a job at the Elks Club when I was 15 years old. It was mostly weekends. Then my mom and dad had a place up north, and I found out I really liked the industry. When I graduated in 1981, there weren’t a lot of jobs available. I took Blackhawk Tech’s culinary arts program for two years and really enjoyed it.
2. Last August, you opened the Liquor Barn, a food and spirits shop in Orfordville. Similar businesses have struggled during the pandemic. What made you decide to go ahead and open? Unfortunately, the flower shop next door to my current business went under, and the building became available. I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to expand a new business in Orfordville.
3. Who is your favorite Muppet? Cookie Monster, of course. Who doesn’t like cookies, and who doesn’t like a monster?
4. Ever sung karaoke? In junior high, I had taken choir. Unfortunately, my teacher at the time—Mr. Walters—told me I wasn’t a very good singer, so I haven’t sung much in front of people after that.
5. If you’re bellying up to the bar at Knute’s, what’s your drink of choice? Beer usually, but once in a while I like Voodoo Vodka Mountain Dew. The only problem with that is the next day, if you’re hung over and try to drink a Mountain Dew to quench your thirst, it doesn’t work.
6. Name something a person needs to understand to be successful as a bar owner in a small town as compared to a larger city? Small town or large city, you have to be active in your community. Build relationships with your customers, treat them as friends ... be there. Everyone likes to see the owner.
7. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Even though I’m a bar owner, I have a hard time staying up past 10 p.m. lately.
8. Is there a current drink trend that is popular with your clientele, but you can’t understand why it’s popular? Right now, seltzers are really popular. I don’t understand why; they don’t taste great. I know everybody drinks them because they are cutting down on carbs, but I can’t get by the taste. Yuck.
9. Prior to Knute’s, had you owned any other bars or worked at other bars? I went from dishwasher to manager at the Elks Club in the 20 years I spent there. I worked two years at Damon’s in Janesville and then opened my own place in 1998. I did have another location in Brodhead for two years, but it was just too much.
10. What is the most effective way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is packed? Always make sure you leave a good tip whether the bar is packed or not. Take care of your bartenders, and they will take care of you
11. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Usually anything with sugar. I like cookies and sweets to an extreme. I could be a sugarholic.
12. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen happen at your bar? When you mix alcohol with people, you see a lot of strange things. I do remember one time when there was about 10 of us who were drinking, and we all decided to shave our heads. From a 21-year-old to a 70-year-old, we all lined up and got shaved.
13. Were you ever involved with a youth group such as Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts or 4H? I joined Cub Scouts and then moved on to Boys Scouts at the church behind my house. I’ve helped the Boy Scouts over the years through my business and currently still support them through spaghetti dinners with Andy Olsen at St. William (Catholic Church in Janesville).
14. Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? I have never seen “Tiger King,” so don’t know why it’s so popular. Not one episode.
15. If you were immortal for a day, what would you do? I’d like to go to Fort Knox and see if all the gold is there, or maybe Area 51 and take a look at the crash of the aliens. Or maybe to the depths of the ocean to see what creatures are really down there.
16. What is your favorite food and, aside from your own place, where is your favorite spot to get it? My favorite food is Mexican food. I like margaritas on the rocks. My wife and I usually get the fajitas at Cozumel in Janesville.
17. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? If I could learn anything, it would probably have to do with computers. I have to ask my daughter to help me all the time in figuring out emails and stuff, so I probably need to take some computer classes.
18. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go? Probably Hawaii. I’ve been talking about going here for a while and just haven’t made it.
19. What is the best thing about being a bar/restaurant owner? The worst thing? The best thing about being a bar and restaurant owner is being my own boss. I also like the people I get to meet and the friendships I have made over the years. The long hours you have to endure to make your business successful is something I could do without.
20. Is your glass half-empty or half-full? My glass is half-full and on its way up!