Sisters and business partners Marija and Vesna
Madunic own Gracious Events, Wauwatosa’s Firefly and their newest
venture, Kindred restaurant on KK. The two savvy women sat down at a
just-arrived table at Kindred, as furniture and final design touches
were being installed, to talk about family and food and sharing a
space with Kinn, Bay View’s brand-new, eight-room micro-hotel.
Tell us about
Marija: The name, “Kindred,” encompasses what it is
about. We have a beautiful, communal table — a style of dining that
is popular in Chicago. It’s about staying and enjoying a meal
Vesna: I want people to see and experience the energy
and the warmth here and to enjoy the food and the beauty of the
space. We are drawing from local inspirations and making it a fun
gathering spot for cocktails and music. It is about creating special
memories for people.
How did you end
up in Bay View?
Marija: We (catered) the wedding of (hotel) owner
Charles Bailey, and we started talking in March of last year.
Vesna: This is such a dream to be in Bay View. We
want to capture the vibe of this area. And we work with people who
share our vision, including Nathan Rader, our chef, who is from
Philadelphia and beyond.
Marija: Nathan has worked in the Caribbean and then
in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I’m just glad he landed here.
Vesna: What was important to us was not to torture
the food, but to let the beauty of good ingredients come through and
play together. It’s simplicity — things like gnocchi made with
parsnips instead of potatoes, then finished with a simple brown
butter sauce and fresh sage breadcrumbs. You get the different
textures and flavors. It’s familiar but a little bit different. Like
our roasted cauliflower, which is served over sunchoke puree and
with crunchy beans, which also has textures and flavors coming
Will you be doing
events with the hotel or for guests of the hotel?
Vesna: The lower level is being developed, and it
will eventually allow us to host larger events and weddings for up
to 120 people. There’s a lot of flexibility. The beauty of the space
is they have a full kitchen, as well as guest rooms. You can get
room service, and we can bring it to you, but you could also come to
the restaurant and enjoy it.
What is it like
working with your sister?
Marija: We know the strengths we each have and what
we can accomplish together. I think the beauty is there’s 100
Vesna: There’s so much benefit to working with each
other. I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else. There’s a
complete understanding and a wonderful balance of our personalities
in work. We have a beautiful system of checks and balances between
us. We are each other’s best sounding boards.
Do you get
together on your days off?
Marija: We have a very close family. Our children are
cousins and friends, and we get together on the weekends. Our mother
is an amazing cook, and her spaghetti and meatballs and sarma and
plum dumplings are amazing. The days we get to eat her cooking, we
are all just thrilled.
Vesna: Our mother taught us to do things with passion
and pride, and I think that’s why we’re still here — after 21 years
together, we still love working with each client.
How did you end
up purchasing Gracious in 1995?
Marija: Vesna worked first at Gracious during
college, and then I started and worked there. When I graduated from
Marquette (University) in business and Vesna moved back to
Milwaukee, Grace wanted to sell, and we decided to (run the
business) together. It wasn’t a full events company with the floral,
décor and design that it is now.
Vesna: We had a vision of what events could be in
Milwaukee. Grace (Smock) was a female pioneer in the 1950s, who
owned her own business. We did everything, and we learned a lot.
How did you move
from catering and events to opening restaurants?
Vesna: We opened Bjonda in 2003 (which is now
Firefly). We had always had a dream of having a restaurant.
Marija: When we do an event, we create a beautiful
space and host an amazing event, but the next day, it’s all gone. We
wanted to create our own space, and that’s when the wheels started
Vesna: We like doing events and running a restaurant.
We can test things out in catering, for example, and there’s so much
balance and benefit to doing both. We love seeing our clients beyond
that you created something special.