The visionary behind the Farmhouse Restaurant at Fair Oaks Farms, Carl Bruggemeier passed away last Wednesday (March 13) from an apparent heart attack while he was traveling in Texas.
Bruggemeier, who preferred to be called “B”, was a nationally renowned and James Beard Award-winning restaurant owner and operator who ran many elite destinations including the Tavern on the Green in New York City and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
When Fair Oaks Farms began discussing the idea of establishing a restaurant at their campus, Bruggemeier was the man to make it a reality.
During a June 2014 interview with Kankakee Valley Publishing, Bruggemeier said the vision for The Farmhouse was completely inspired by the mission of Fair Oaks Farms.
“Fair Oaks Farms is all about transparency,” said Bruggemeier. “They are proud of what they do and they want people to see it. Our kitchen provides that same transparency. This is a lot more than a restaurant. It is a culinary and farm experience. Tying in our own fresh produce, meat, wines, ice cream ... raising and growing what goes onto the plate, that makes this a truly unique experience.”
Bruggemeier was heavily involved with The Farmhouse for the first three years of the restaurant’s existence as a consultant and is credited with setting up the popular restaurant for success.
“Most of the procedures that were setup at The Farmhouse were his ideas,” said current Farmhouse general manager Richard Arthur. “He was a major influence here and at every place he consulted at. He was committed to a high level of service and he had a way of making his employees really passionate about their jobs.”
Bruggemeier had more than 40 years of management experience primarily in the hospitality industry.
As a creator/developer and owner he completed more than $1 billion of total restaurant and retail design, construction and development. Conceiving and building new concepts was the hallmark of Bruggemeier’s career.
Bruggemeier was also the recipient of numerous awards including the Hall of Fame Fine Dining Award, The Ivy Award, and the “Esquire Best New Restaurant in America Award.”
“B was one of those larger than life personalities,” said Arthur, who knew Bruggemeier for 20 years and worked with him at Petersons in Indianapolis, and The Lighthouse in Cedar Lake before being recruited by him to become the general manager at The Farmhouse. “When he walks in a room he commands attention, and when he talks people listen. Underneath his professional exterior, though, he had the biggest heart of anyone that I have ever met. He ways always for the underdog.”
In addition to building successful restaurants, Bruggemeier was also an avid breeder of Gypsy Vanner horses, a rare breed that originated over 600 years ago in Eastern Europe where gypsies wanted a horse with the strength of a Clydesdale, but without the massive size. Bruggemeier bred the horses at his “Heaven Sent” farm along with his wife and three adopted daughters.