By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Feb 01, 2024 at 7:02 PM

Last August, we shared the news that Christine McRoberts planned to transition her ownership of McBob’s Pub & Grill, 4919 W. North Ave. to a new proprietor, Giovanni Kais.

But even the best-laid plans don’t always work out – at least not exactly as expected.

And so it was for McRoberts, who never anticipated that she’d be turning over the keys to Katy Klinnert and Sara McConville, two longtime friends and business partners, who will take the helm at the pub beginning next week. 

It’s a development that – in many ways – has been a year in the making. And McRoberts says she couldn’t be happier to turn over her business to two people who not only appreciate the value that McBob’s brings to the neighborhood but intend to keep it largely the same.

“The past year has allowed me to take the time to think about things, including my life without McBob’s,” reflects McRoberts. “And I don’t have any regrets. I believe that Giovanni came into our lives for a reason, and it was so that we would ultimately find Katy and Sara.” 

McRoberts’ partner Steve Schmich agrees.

“We knew we needed new blood, and this is a perfect fit. Sara has such a personal attachment to McBob’s. They both have backgrounds in hospitality and Katy has a degree in Marketing from Marquette. So they’re very well equipped for the job. Even better, they’re inheriting a really great staff – one of the best we’ve ever had here. So, we feel really good about the transition.” 

Steve Schmich, Sara McConville, Katy Klinnert, Christine McRoberts
From left to right: Steve Schmich, Sara McConville, Katy Klinnert, Christine McRoberts

A serendipitous road

Klinnert, who left the corporate world to launch her successful personal chef business Katy’s Cooking Tonight in 2015, says she never imagined that her future would include restaurant ownership. In fact, when she called her daughter to tell her that she and McConville had purchased McBob’s, her daughter’s response was telling. 

“My mother told me that she would never own a restaurant,” she replied matter-of-factly.

But, even though restaurant ownership was not a part of either of the business partners’ longterm plans, the opportunity was one that Klinnert and McConville both found themselves excited to pursue.

The long-time friends began working together in 2020. McConville had left her career in the grocery industry to stay at home with her daughter, whose school had gone virtual. Meanwhile, Klinnert had scaled back her personal chef services due to the pandemic and began baking from home. The business grew faster than she could accommodate, so she brought McConville on part-time to help.

In 2021, with demand higher than ever,  Klinnert secured commercial kitchen space at Common Cookhouse in Oak Creek, a decision that made it easier to meet that demand and transition back to her personal chef services.

But their success came to a halt in June of 2022 when a fire at the Common Cookhouse displaced 20 small food businesses, including Klinnert’s. While the community support was tremendous following the fire, the loss of their commercial kitchen space was tragic and the two friends found themselves moving from one temporary space to another as they looked for a space where they could build out their own kitchen.

Along the way, they found themselves renting kitchen space at Whiskey Haze, a now-shuttered restaurant and bar at 5513 W North Ave., which was owned by McRoberts and Schmich. 

You can now begin to imagine how the story plays out. 

Whiskey Haze, exteriorX

A special gathering place

McConville, who lives in the nearby Washington Heights neighborhood, says McBob’s has long had a special place in her life.

“I’ve been dining at McBob’s for probably 15 years,” she says. “My dad loved the fish fry and the ‘big tacos’. Over time, it became a really special place for my family to gather. We came here for breakfast the day that my son started school at MSOE. We also came here for brunch on the morning after my father’s funeral.”

McConville says the Irish pub held a special place in her heart. “I brought people here when they visited from out of town,” she says, noting that she also introduced Klinnert to the space.

“She brought me here with a group of girlfriends,” says Klinnert. “And I was impressed. I sampled my way through all the different kinds of breads that they made and we sat and talked for what had to have been at least three hours… it was just that sort of place.” 

Over time, as they learned that complications had developed with the sale of the restaurant, the two began talking about the potential for purchasing McBob’s themselves. The more they talked, the more the idea seemed feasible. 

McConville eventually came to Klinnert and confided in her good friend. “I think this was meant to be,” she said. “I just can’t envision this not happening. The opportunity to carry on the legacy of this amazing place has literally fallen into our laps, and I think we need to do it.”

Klinnert, who had funds from the Common Cookhouse GoFundMe campaign that she’d been saving to purchase their own commercial kitchen space, says she couldn’t think of a better way to spend them. 

McConville says that when they shared the news of the sale with her 12-year-old daughter, the initial response was pure shock. But when her daughter finally found the words to express herself, she said: “Grandpa would be so proud of you. He’s gonna be there every day with you, having a beer and a fish fry.”

The bar at McBob'sX

What guests can expect

As far as changes go, Klinnert and McConville have hired their first “new” employee. Joe Arnsdorf, a former Katy’s Cooking Tonight employee who quit his job to go back to school, has joined the current slate of pub employees. 

But both of the partners agree that making significant changes to operations at McBob’s isn’t in their immediate plan.

“It’s written into the purchase agreement that we will not change the corned beef,” notes Klinnert with a knowing smile. And then, more seriously, she continues.

“Our first objective is to get our feet on the ground, get to know our customers and get a feel for the business,” she says. “This place already feels like home to us, and we want to keep it that way. We want to continue to be that inclusive place where everyone is welcome.”

Aside from that, there’s only one major change that’s worth noting.

The former Super Combo fish fry – featuring perch, walleye and grouper – has been renamed “Dewey’s Super Combo” in memory of McConville’s father.

Klinnert, McRoberts and McConville
Klinnert, McRoberts and McConville

Celebrate the change

In order to accommodate the transitions needed to cement the bar’s new ownership, McBob’s will be closed on Wednesday, Feb. 7, reopening as usual on Thursday, Feb. 8.

On Friday, Feb. 9, guests are invited to stop by the pub between 8 a.m. and midnight for a Customer Appreciation Party. Folks will have a chance to meet Klinnert and McConville, enjoy live music from 1 to 8 p.m. and participate in tastings and giveaways throughout the day. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Guinness lovers can even get their faces emblazoned on the head of their brew between 1 and 3 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.