Jeffrey Vogt doesn’t know why he got started in the restaurant business, he was young. He was a bartender at one place and then another before working for John and Karen Pottoff at their place on Main Street in Waterloo.
Then one Saturday when he was 27, John Pottoff says, “C’mere, I want to talk to you. I want to sell you the tavern.” A bank approved the loan to Jeffrey on a Wednesday, and JV’s Bar & Grill started shortly thereafter, in 1985.
Jeff does all the cooking, says his wife of 26 years, Denise. He’s moved a bit from the bar side of things to cooking more, saying when he started there were a handful of rail drinks and four beers.
“Now there’s hundreds of brands and flavors of vodka, and a distillery in Columbia ... and we have 12 taps,” he said. “You still can’t go wrong with a Budweiser.”
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The Waterloo mainstay serves smoked meats with homemade sides, burgers, pizza and more.
“We’re not award-winning,” Jeff said, mostly because barbecue competitions take entire weekends, weekends that his customers need him at the restaurant.
“To get him away from here on a Friday night takes going to see (a granddaughter) in Massachusetts,” Denise says.
Friday nights are the money nights, Jeff said. If you’re not making money on a Friday night in a restaurant, you’re out of business.
Jeff makes his own potato salad, with potatoes cut on his mother and grandmother’s slicers. He makes his own cole slaw and baked beans as well, using Dijon for a bit of heat and “a hint of sweet at the end.” Salad dressings are made from scratch, too, although Kraft’s ranch dressing is ready to use as dipping sauce for those who choose it.
“It’s sacrilege, and they put it on their pizza,” Jeff said.
It’s about the customers and the people who come back.
Denise Vogt, of JV’s Bar & Grill
JV’s makes between nine and 12 gallons of ranch dressing a week, he said, then remembering that he also had to make bread pudding that day.
He’s self-deprecating but immensely proud of his food, with Denise telling a story of a catering job with a dissatisfied customer. That customer, Jeff says, later came back to admit the smoked chicken was cooked through, and remains a customer today.
“I was out with some guys the other night, and they were talking about another restaurant. And one of them goes, ‘Wasn’t that just the best brisket?’ as I’m sitting right there,” Jeff said.
He’s smoked and served brisket for 28 of the 32 years the restaurant has been open, he knows his brisket is good.
JV’s has been in the same spot in Waterloo, and Denise and Jeff often hear diners arguing about who have been customers the longest.
A recent conversation between two patrons ended with Denise’s name being used as a reference, Jeff said.
“Did Denise ever hold you when you was a baby? Because my mom says Denise held me when I was a baby,” one boasted, winning the argument. That man later asked Jeff if he would get ice cream if he finished his beer, because when he was a kid he got ice cream when he finished a meal.
Denise laughed, saying she loves to walk babies around the restaurant so their parents can dine, at least until the baby cries.
“It’s about the customers and the people who come back,” she said.
The family lived for a time above the restaurant, which Denise said was just perfect. Their three children — now Emily Cowden, Jonathan Wolf and Joel Vogt — could be upstairs and know just where mom and dad were.
JV’s Bar & Grill
- Where: 117 N. Main, Waterloo; www.jvsbarandgrill.com/; 618-939-7127
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Closed holidays.
- Serving: BBQ Nachos (JV’s chili, baked beans, pulled pork, cheddar cheese and drizzle of sauce over chips) for $7.29; homemade soup for $2.99 a cup, BBQ Pork Cutlet for $10.99, the JV Burger (with bacon and Provel) for $6.99, the Mackie Burger (Provel, bacon grilled onions and mushrooms) for $7.49; 9-inch one-topping pizza starts at $9.79; pulled sampler (brisket, pork and chicken) is $12.99. Every Friday offers a fish menu, with fried or broiled cod and fried walleye. The walleye plate is $9.95; the one-pound cod filets with two sides is $16.