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.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Milton, Matt Schreier initially planned on having a career in mechanical engineering. He went off to college to pursue his passion, but he found an even greater love for the bar business after picking up a part-time bartending job more than 15 years ago.
Schreier’s passion continued to evolve over the years, and he eventually purchased The Looking Glass, 18 N. Main St., Janesville. He and his wife, Karmyn, enjoy being part of the downtown community, and both hold a strong belief in supporting the recent growth. Together, the couple undertook a complete remodel of the bar in 2017.
When they’re not busy serving food and drinks at their home away from home, the Schreiers spend time raising their children, Madelyn and Mason, in Janesville. And they look forward to keeping bar patrons in Janesville happy for many years to come.
To learn more about the bar, its food and the entertainment it offers, search for “The Looking Glass” on Facebook.
1. How did The Looking Glass get its name? From what I understand, it derived from a collection of mirrors—in particular a very large mirror that was featured in the original bar in 1982. Over the years, and even with the remodel, we have tried to pay homage to that with our wall of vintage mirrors.
2. You completely renovated last year. What sparked your decision to do that? For us, it had been a long time coming. Over the years, ideas have continuously transpired, but it got to the point with certain areas of the building—especially the bathrooms and kitchen—where a complete remodel was necessary. We have also been very passionate about the continued growth in the downtown community and felt it was important to not just be part of the conversation but part of the solution. It is really an exciting time to be a part of the downtown community, and we are continuing to come up with ideas on how to stay relevant. We have plans to continue our renovation into the patio space.
3. Name your superpower. I would pick teleportation. I often find myself wanting to be in multiple places at one time for various reasons, and this would allow me to do that.
4. Name the last great book/movie/podcast, etc. that you read/saw/listened to. I read all the time. My wife laughs at me because I don’t just read one book at a time—I often have five or six that I’m reading concurrently. The last great book I read was by Jonathan Mayberry. I honestly don’t even know the title right now as I am reading several of his books.
5. When you’re at the bar, what are you drinking and why? Craft beer. Sours tend to be my favorite. I like finding places that have unique craft beer offerings. The Looking Glass is a true culmination of places where I would like to hang out, and therefore what we offer in terms of tap beer selections is the same. I have been drinking sour beer for years, and I have tried for years to get people to fall in love with them. And just like IPAs have been a huge trend over the last few years, I just found an article about how sours are the next big thing. Finally, people are catching on to my favorites.
6. Bar patrons have not been allowed to smoke inside for quite some time now. Was the decision to ban smoking in bars/restaurants beneficial/detrimental to your own business? It’s strange. It hasn’t been that long, but it seems like a lifetime ago that decision was made. I think for our business, in particular, it was probably beneficial in that we have a dedicated outdoor space in which customers can drink and smoke. That is unique to the downtown community. In the warmer months, customers enjoy being able to sit outside and enjoy both. At the same time, customers who don’t smoke enjoy the smoke-free environment inside.
7. What is your least favorite thing about running The Looking Glass? I think it’s similar to what most people say about their jobs, and that’s that it takes a lot of time. Running a business of any size or type is a real commitment. You make a commitment to your customers, a commitment to your employees and a commitment to your vendors. At the end of the day, you prioritize, making sure all those people get paid before you do. So there are times, for sure, that you have to be at work when you don’t want to be, or you sacrifice being able to go on a field trip with your kids. But at the end of the day, there are so many upsides to this business. You really get to be a part of peoples’ lives, and that’s a pretty special thing.
8. Beer choices have exploded in the past 10 years. What do you do to make sure you always have new selections and brands available to your customers? When we remodeled and were talking about how many tap beer lines to have, we originally thought 20 or 24. Ultimately decided on 18 because we are at 18 N. Main St., and that number has really been perfect in allowing us to represent the best in craft beer. It’s hard because you really are chasing trends at times. The IPA trend has been significant over the last couple of years, but that is losing steam. Of course, you always have customers who love a good IPA, so you really do have to work to have the right representation. We tend to do more of the smaller barrels so we can rotate more frequently. And like I said before, having good relationships with distributors and brewers allows us the opportunity to get offerings that are unique to the area. I think our customers really like that. When you can go anywhere and get certain products that are trending, it’s nice to have a place that might have something a little off the beaten path.
9. It used to be that bartenders only needed to know how to run a tap, open a can or pop a top. With so many different tastes and styles of beer, how much time do they need to spend on education to gain knowledge about them? A lot more time. When we reopened after our remodel, we got support from our friends up the street at Rock County Brewing who did a class for our staff, and our staff raved about how helpful it was. There is so much information out there. Honestly, for anyone to be successful in any business, he or she has to have the motivation to really be a lifelong learner and use the tools and resources available. If someone starts working for us who doesn’t like beer or isn’t educated, he or she most likely won’t stay that way. I have seen many bartenders turn into beer experts or gain a love of craft beer, but I think that’s driven by the excitement they see in customers, and they want to be a part of it.
10. Everyone has that favorite piece of clothing they love but everyone else hates? Do you have anything like that? My Rogue hat.
11. When was your last big vacation and where did you go? We really haven’t gone on a big vacation since before our kids were born. One of our favorite places to travel has always been Colorado. We have taken several trips out there, seeing various parts of the state. Now, it’s mostly Wisconsin Dells and smaller three-to-four-day trips somewhere in driving distance.
12. As a bar owner, have you ever made a mistake that turned out to be a valuable lesson toward your success? Too many to list, I am sure.
13. If you’re not hanging out at The Looking Glass, is there another area bar that you enjoy visiting? Not so much these days. In my younger days, absolutely there were places. These days, life is just a little different. However, we’re always looking for great, unique places if we are traveling somewhere, and there are a few places that I really like. I love the feel of The Old Fashioned in Madison, and we just went to a great brewery in Milwaukee called City Lights on our beer club brewery trip. Both of these are in old historic buildings, which I obviously love given the feel of The Looking Glass.
14. How has your clientele changed since the day you first took over The Looking Glass? Having been involved in the business for more than a decade, the customer base does change for various reasons. It’s been really great to see how some of our late-night regulars have gone from being young kids out on a weeknight to now coming in with their kids on weekends for breakfast. So, yes, that’s part of the business because people mature, and a new wave of customers emerges, and their wants and needs evolve. The products and experiences they are looking for are different. When I first became involved in this business, I could never have envisioned putting USB plug-ins into the bar, so I’m sure there is even more around the corner.
15. You have two hours of free time. What do you do with it? Read, play video games or, honestly, take a nap.
16. What did you eat for supper last night? Homemade chicken and dumplings (Thank you, Karmyn).
17. A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. When he finishes, he asks the bartender, “How much do I owe you?” The bartender says, “For you, no charge.” What’s your favorite (printable) bar joke? A duck walks into a bar. Duck says to bartender, “Do you have any bread?” Bartender says, “No.” The duck, unfazed, looks at the bartender and says, “Do you have any bread?” The bartender again says, “No.” The duck asks a third time, “Do you have any bread?” to which the bartender responds. “No, and if you ask me again, I will nail your bill to the bar.” Thoughtfully, the duck looks up and asks, “Do you have any nails?” The bartender responds, “No, I don’t.” The duck responds quickly, “How about some bread?”
18. If you didn’t own a bar, what would you be doing for a living? Depending on where I was in my life, I would have had a bunch of different responses to this. I initially thought I would be an engineer and went to school to do that. Life has a funny way of showing us our path. These days, I find myself becoming more and more passionate about physically building things with my hands, so something along those lines perhaps. But being a dad has been, by far, the most rewarding job I will ever have.
19. What was the first car you owned, and how did you get it? A 1980 blaze orange Dodge Omni I bought from my uncle for $25. Used money I earned for chores working on my parents’ dairy farm.
20. If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning a medal in? Beer drinking, of course, or is that not already a sport? No, probably some sort of math competition or spelling.