Meet the Chefs
Lifelong friends (and still friends after being in business together for over 14 years!) and Wisconsin Dells natives, Chefs Justin Draper and Wade Bernander stand proud over their culinary creation, High Rock Café, opened in 2004. Their collection of recipes reflects their wanderlust, with flavor inspirations from their travels to the east and west coasts and points in between before both returned to the Dells to set down roots once again.
Their journey to the High Rock’s grand opening has been a long one. The pair split up a bit after graduating from the Wisconsin Dells High School, with Justin relocating to Minneapolis to enter the cooking academy Le Cordon Bleu. Wade, on the other hand, decided to enroll in Mid State Tech in Wisconsin Rapids to pursue his love of cooking. As soon as they received their culinary degrees the duo decided to travel around the US together and collect as much experience as they could as sous chefs. From Miami to Vail to Portland, Justin and Wade made of the most of what each city had to offer. After many years, Justin headed to LA while Wade traveled to Arizona. Finally they both decided to head back to their home town and set up shop.
The High Rock Café first started as a small two man show with paper plates and plastic utensils. Being on the second floor, customers would have to bypass a local gift shop (which was owned by Justin and Wade’s mothers) and climb the staircase to the single dining room. Thanks to its growing local popularity and returning tourists, the restaurant has gone through several renovations and now fills the entire brick building with three separate dining rooms, a full bar and a summer outdoor deck.
With the increase sales and added staff, Wade and Justin have a bit more time off to enjoy to themselves. During the winter Justin loves cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and traveling to exotic locations. Throughout the summer you can find him relaxing on his pontoon boat or kayaking with his wife Tara Draper (a local photographer) with his beloved dog Jake.
When he’s not relaxing or at the restaurant, you’ll find Justin helping out in several Downtown committees. Passionate about local businesses in his beloved hometown, Justin spends much of his time collaborating with other entrepreneurs to improve the downtown Dells experience.
Although the two men can often be seen joking in the kitchen and see eye to eye on many issues, Wade takes a different approach to his recreation activities. He’s been a volunteer fire fighter for 10 years now and loves to help out through this public service. You’ll often see Wade hang out at the fire house helping out and attending banquets and fundraisers. When he’s not running around saving the world, he’s at home with his three children and his wife Jamie Bernander (who you’ll find at the beautiful Ishnala restaurant during the summer, which her family owns).
Wade is the glue that helps keep the High Rock together, literally, you will find him fixing a light here or replacing a door handle there. Not only a head chef in the kitchen, his other duties include keeping a constant eye on the finances and inventory, all the while maintaining his fun and jovial attitude.
The building in which High Rock is housed also has particular significance to Justin. This beautiful brick structure has been in the Draper family for generations. Justin’s dad, Denis Draper, and his grandfather, were both restaurateurs. It’s not rare to have a returning customer recount the days they visited Upper Crust Pizza or the Cafeteria style restaurant of Grandpa Draper from the 50s. Now in the safe hands of Justin and Wade, they hope to protect and further this successful restaurant legacy.
Although on a busy Saturday night you’ll find a line out the door, Justin and Wade often think about their meager beginnings in their second story start up. Justin would cook and Wade would serve and the next day they would switch. Now on a busy night they’re calling out to a full kitchen of staff and trying to keep up with the growing demand for their delicious food. Forever grateful to their loyal local customers and the city in which they grew up, they hope to continue serving their beloved community as long as they can.