Shane Brown of Oconomowoc, center, talks with his
brother, Evan, left, and Kirsten Becker, right, of
Oconomowoc on Friday night at Joe Mama’s Bar and Grill
John Ehlke/Daily News
COLGATE — Open less than a year, Joe Mama’s Bar and
Grill, 4600 Highway Q, has quickly earned a following
for its creativity on the menu.
“The menu reflects what I want to see when I go out to
eat,” said Joe Vella, co-owner.
But, where it has separated itself is with a simple
dish: macaroni and cheese.
are known for our mac and cheese,” Vella said.
Well, Vella and co-owner Al Wasley see macaroni and
cheese as a blank canvas for an artist, free for
interpretation and modification in whatever way they
example, the Thanksgiving Mac ‘n Cheese had the macaroni
and cheese as the anchor or base, but mixed with turkey,
stuffing, gravy, corn and potatoes, and served with a
side of cranberry sauce.
there is the Mac Attack Cheeseburger — a half-pound
Black Angus burger topped with Joe Mama’s signature Mac
‘n Cheese and applewood smoked bacon.
There is some kind of twist to the macaroni and cheese
Wasley said more than 2,000 people are drawn to Joe
Mama’s per week to find out the next twist, thus leading
to its selection as one of the 10 recommended
restaurants in the county by Daily News readers in a
recent informal poll.
“Joe Mama’s has amazing food,” said Alexandra Bellini of
Pewaukee. “Excellent service and a great atmosphere.
It’s really had a positive impact on that area.”
“Mac and cheese all day,” said Steve Hennessy of
bad for a restaurant that opened in December 2016.
“It’s so incredibly exciting,” Vella said about the
quick reception from the community. “We expected to do
OK, but it’s on a whole other level.”
Wasley added, “It’s incredible to take something from
nothing and turn it into a hot spot. We have about 2,000
people coming through here each week and that’s pretty
awesome. It started like that. We really haven’t had a
Vella and Wasley believe that happened for a couple
reasons. The first was location.
Despite the lack of signage to the establishment and not
visible from a major north-south road (Highway 164).
Yes, it is on County Line Road, but once it crosses
Highway 164, the traffic tends to dip dramatically as it
goes into the country side with plenty of trees lining a
has the acreage; it has the parking,” Wasley said.
They also each have an extensive background in the
restaurant industry, which helped develop the
restaurant. Vella’s parents owned a restaurant for more
than 30 years.
started washing dishes and worked my way through the
kitchen,” he said. “Went to the front of the house after
working in the kitchen and I fell in love with
bartending and never really looked back.”
Wasley had a different route to restaurants. He started
about 16 years ago after being in sales.
wanted to work for myself and I bought a small custard
stand and it evolved into a shot-and-a-beer bar and it
just kind of grew into the restaurant business,” he
said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Wasley admitted he tried to get out of the restaurant
business after a few years. But he had found his niche.
realized you could be creative and have a lot of fun,”
Vella and Wasley got to know each other about 10 years
ago after Vella visited some places owned by Wasley. One
of those places was Rookies Sports Bar & Grill in
“Everything that Al did was successful,” Vella said.
“Every bar that he ran he did a real fantastic job. And,
I learned as much as I could where I was at. You see
somebody do well, you want to learn from them.”
Vella gave his phone number to Wasley’s girlfriend and
told him he and Wasley should collaborate on a
Wasley was open to the idea because of the reputation he
heard when Vella managed Foolery’s, also in Okauchee.
“He’s got a bigger than life personality,” Wasley said.
“He came with a great reputation.”
Their first meeting was July 2016. Wasley had just sold
Tailgaters in Sussex and Vella was running Foolery’s.
was scary and exciting,” Vella said of his first few
meetings with his future co-owner.
Wasley added, “It’s a feeling out process. We’re about
to get married to each other in business and you want to
make sure we’re the right people, the right fit for each
Thankfully, they got their answer quickly.
“For me, it was seeing the passion, the drive he had,”
Vella said, “I knew that Al was a smart business man and
I wanted to learn from him.”
it turned out, they’ve learned a lot from each other to
take Joe Mama’s to a level maybe thought, at one point,
Some of the specials include 12 jumbo wings for $5.95 on
Mondays, $1.95 jumbo beef tacos on Tuesdays,
all-you-can-eat spaghetti on Wednesdays and, of course,
the fish fry on Fridays.
“The menu kind of came from basically ... every place
I’ve worked, I’ve worked at fine dining and
shot-and-beer places, and I’ve taken a little bit from
every place,” Vella said.
the signature dish is Joe Mama’s Homemade Mac ’N Cheese
— with American, cheddar, cheddar jack, parmesan and
pecorino romano, served under a toasted breadcrumb
“It’s just stellar,” Vella said.
Wasley called macaroni and cheese a “comfort food.”
don’t care how old you are, you still like it,” he said.
Joe Mama’s is about to get bigger.
This month, representatives from the Travel Channel’s
“Food Paradise” show will collect clips for an episode
to run some time in 2018.
“We’re going to have to expand,” Wasley said. “We’re
bursting at the seams.”
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