Matt Van Nest and his wife, Andrea, opened Brasserie V, on Monroe Street, in 2007. The European-inspired bistro proved a good fit for the bustling neighborhood, a popular destination for both lunch and dinner. An expansion earlier this year added seats and space, but Brasserie V retains its lively, convivial feel.
Van Nest, 49, grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa, and attended the University of Northern Iowa. He came to Madison to visit friends in 1991, fell hard for the city, and within weeks, moved here himself. He and Andrea married in 2005, and they have a 7-year-old daughter.
Q. Talk about how you arrived at the idea for Brasserie V.
A. The idea started with my love of Belgian beer, which actually came out of a friend’s 40th birthday pub crawl in Chicago. I had my first Belgian beer that evening and have been enamored ever since. Andrea lived in Paris for a couple of years before we met and really enjoyed the neighborhood cafes and fresh markets in the city. That influenced us. We later visited France and Belgium together. A main theme is our love of new experiences, one reason why our beer list is ever-changing and our menu changes with the seasons.
Q. What is the best thing about being in the restaurant/bar business in Madison, and what’s the most challenging? What would surprise people?
A. I like the camaraderie that exists between the large number of independently owned restaurants. We pull for one another to succeed. And we’re fortunate to have all these great farmers and cheesemakers nearby. The biggest challenges are time management and consistency. When you own your own business, you’re responsible for everything. You can’t plan for all the things that come up. Then our patrons expect the same quality food and service and the same great beers day in and day out. It’s demanding. Yet we feel blessed to have our own business, set our own priorities, and to have such good customers.
I think people might be surprised how many great people we’ve met through the restaurant who have become friends and almost like family. We traveled with a group of them to Belgium, and hope to make that a yearly thing going forward.
Q. Tell us about the expansion that was completed earlier this year.
A. We had really outgrown our space. It was becoming uncomfortable for people to find a spot to wait for a table, and on weekends, almost impossible for those who wanted to just come in for drinks or a snack to find a space to sit. Eighteen months ago, we were lucky enough to purchase our building, which included the space next door to Brasserie V. We really wanted to add space for diners as well as people who really love our beer and wine selection and just want to come with friends for a drink or two. It’s going well. We didn’t want to lose the intimacy and atmosphere of the original space, and judging by comments, we haven’t.
Q. Why the decision not to take reservations?
A. Several reasons, but primarily because we are still a small neighborhood brasserie. Most people just like to show up when they are can, and now with more space, they’re able to wait in a comfortable and welcoming environment.
Q. How do you spend your time away from the restaurant?
A. I most enjoy being home with my wife and daughter, listening to music or reading a book or magazine — I subscribe to about 15. Out of the house, I like movies, golf, hiking, skiing in Colorado and traveling as much as I can. And, of course, great beer.
— Doug Moe