Bartolotta at the then-newly opened Ristorante Bartolotta.
Bartolotta decided he wanted to open a northern Italian cucina in the
Wauwatosa Village, the landlord initially refused him. "He didnít
want an Italian restaurant because he was afraid of the smell of
garlic coming up to his offices. I finally won him over, and so we
opened," Bartolotta says. "Itís a wonderful, wonderful
thing we did."
"thing" was Ristorante Bartolotta, and back in 1993, most
Milwaukeeans had never heard of bruschetta or a Caprese salad.
"People used to come in and ask us, ĎWhere are the spaghetti
and meatballs? Where is the veal parmigiana? Where is the lasagna?í"
Bartolotta says. "People were more familiar with Sicilian
cooking, and what we opened was the cucina rustica of north-central
educating Milwaukeeans about good, simple food, and heís continued
our educations ever since. His second endeavor was Lake Park Bistro in
1996. "If you would have told me 20 years ago that we would have
14 businesses with 1,000 employees, I would have said, ĎNo way,í"
restaurant group has expanded and grown, encompassing everything from
great custard and burgers at North Point to gastropub cuisine at
Rumpus Room to supper clubs at Joey Gerardís. "The Milwaukee
dining scene has really evolved, and itís gotten quite competitive
with a lot of small restaurants opening, and thatís really
good," Bartolotta says. "The more educated people are the
better restaurants are going to be."
Bartolotta has changed through the years; many menu items have come
and gone, but some favorites just canít be removed, including
rigatoni con melanzane al sugo di pomodoro, a pasta dish with
eggplant, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. "Weíve tried to take
it off a few times but never, ever could do it," Bartolotta says.
was introducing Milwaukeeans to high-end yet rustic cuisine, across
town in a little Riverwest space, Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro
quietly opened Fuel Cafť. Back then, the only destination coffeehouse
was a restaurant on Downer called the Coffee Trader, and that was
restaurant first, coffee second. At Fuel, Johnson and Montemurro
opened a Euro-style coffeehouse, the likes of which had never been
seen here before.
and definitely hip, Fuel was a smoky cafť, boasting a simple menu of
good sandwiches and eats, but the coffee, that was the draw. Two years
later, they opened Comet Cafť. Today their restaurant emporium runs
the gamut from wine bars (Balzac) to taco cantinas (BelAir). But the
one theme that has factored into each of their endeavors is each place
has that cool cachť, and each venture fits right into its
neighborhood, a feeling of indigenous belonging that not every
restaurateur can accomplish. "We really enjoy the business, and
being with a lot of young people keeps us fresh," Johnson says.
"We really like the art scene, just being with creative
In fact their
latest venture fits right into its Wauwatosa digs as the second BelAir
cantina serves up margaritas and upscale tacos. "When we first
opened Fuel I was 26 years old," Johnson says. "At that age,
you canít imagine being 20 years older yet alone what it might
When he and
Montemurro started they could name and count the number of restaurants
that mattered in Milwaukee. "Now, there are restaurants all over
the place," Johnson says. "I can drive down the street and
see three new restaurants Iíve never heard about before. Thatís
the kind of city we always wanted Milwaukee to be, and I think thatís
Along with Fuel,
three other coffee entrepreneurs started up in 1993, but they went in
very different directions. Downtown, there was Steamerís, a tiny
little spot that blasted out a steam of air from the sign every so
often. "Back then there were no other choices downtown, and it
was really vibrant," says Steve Goretzo, owner of Svenís Cafť,
which opened its second location in Steamerís original spot in 2012.
"Many different people have operated the cafť out of that space,
and weíre trying to get it back to what it was. There are a lot of
positive things happening downtown so we think itís a great place to
In Whitefish Bay
Eric Resch and his wife, Melissa, roasted their first batch of coffee
and opened Stone Creek Coffee. Today they own 10 stores and supply
dozens more with their delicious brews.
In a little
kiosk at Bayshore Mall, Ward and Lincoln Fowler and their friend, Paul
Miller, started roasting coffee. That little kiosk has grown into the
Alterra coffee empire, roasting more than 25,000 pounds of coffee
every week with more than a dozen locations. Not just a roaster,
Alterraís got its own, full-scale bakery operation, and it continues
to grow. Most recently, Alterra opened a chic new space in Wauwatosa.
The Wauwatosa space was designed under the direction of artists Joe
and Janice Niedzialkowski in collaboration with Kubala Washatko
Architects. "This was an opportunity to create exactly what we
wanted opposed to fitting it into an existing space," says