Former Grill Junkies cook opening Moon Lite Grill

By Eric Oliver -  Enterprise Staff

June 25, 2015

Owner of Moon Lite Grill Chris Cavanaugh stands in front of the counter of his soon-to-open restaurant at 1288 Summit Ave.   
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC — Two people, two states and one moon between them.

Chris Cavanaugh, owner of Moon Lite Grill has a ritual. Every night at the same time, he looks up to the moon because on the other side of the United States in Arizona his mom is looking up at it, too.

“We’re kind of with each other in that sense,” Cavanaugh said.

That’s why Cavanaugh named his new restaurant at 1288 Summit Ave. Moon Lite Grill. A former employee of Grill Junkies and Lemongrass, he said he was approached by the landlord after the owners of Grill Junkies moved to Delafield. He jumped at the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Set to open by Friday, Cavanaugh said he is bringing good barbecue to Oconomowoc.

“Guests can expect great barbecue, which I don’t think this town has,” Cavanaugh said.

In addition, he is bringing back a hand-selected staff of former Grill Junkies waitresses and staff members. He took the old building and renovated it; the biggest addition being a 24-foot-by-30-foot deck, which will prominently feature moonlight in the evening hours, Cavanaugh said.

“I’ve been here for 25 years,” Cavanaugh said. “I know the area and I know a lot of people around the area. I’ve noticed there are a lot of little patios downtown where you’re staring at a building. It’s kind of like a concrete jungle. Over here you can relax, enjoy a little breeze and look at some foliage.”

 Moon Lite Grill, 1288 Summit Ave., will be open this Friday.
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff

Customers can expect favorites from both Lemongrass and Grill Junkies to appear in rotating specials. The burger bar and the gluten-free options that defined the former restaurant also are returning.

Along with the resurrected offerings, Cavanaugh recently purchased an indoor smoker for all-season use.

“We’re going to be smoking brisket, ribs, pork, ham, chicken and salmon,” Cavanaugh said. “You name it and we’re going to smoke it.”

The restaurant will also feature wraps and salads.

Besides the deck, Cavanaugh installed a children’s play pen, hung a hand-painted mural depicting a night sky and brought in additional beer offerings. New Glarus Brewring Company’s Moon Man is prominently featured.

His biggest goal was to open up the restaurant to everybody.

“It’s not just for a single crowd,” Cavanaugh said. “Anyone and everyone can come here. There’s a place for everyone.”

Oconomowoc roots

Having been born and raised in Oconomowoc, Cavanaugh said he knows the area and what it’s missing. How he became a chef starts back with his mom in her kitchen.

 The interior of Moon Lite Grill, 1288 Summit Ave., has been completely redecorated with a kids section and a large deck added. 
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff

“She would cook the most amazing food,” Cavanaugh said. “Everything she cooked was amazing and that’s where I really fell in love with food.”

After she moved to Arizona to take care of her aging parents, he stepped into her shoes to feed his family “that still needs Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners,” he said.

After attending culinary school at Waukesha County Technical College, Cavanaugh briefly toyed with the idea of going into a computer-related field because of the higher earning potential.

However, he continued to cook as he went to school, and soon enough he realized cooking was his passion.

Twelve years later and Cavanaugh has his first opportunity to be an owner, and he is relishing it.

“Everyone come and try it out,” Cavanaugh said. “I can guarantee you’ll have a good time. It’s a good atmosphere and there are good people working here.”