A destination restaurant

By Sheryl Popp - Special to Conley Media

Sept. 3, 2019

Messina Italian Restaurant offers catering as well as their popular dining menu.
Photo by Art Dahlke

SAUKVILLE — The 2019 Small Business of the Year designation was awarded to Messina Italian Restaurant in Saukville.

The business is owned and operated by Carmelo and Leigh Raffaele. Carmelo Raffaele was born in Sicily and immigrated to Milwaukee where he met Leigh. Even before their marriage, Raffaele worked at restaurants and for Kohl’s Food Stores. After they married, the couple wanted to open their own business.

“My father loved to shop at Glorioso’s Italian Market (on the lower east side in Milwaukee),” said Carmelo Raffaele. “So we thought we could do something like that. There was an empty storefront in downtown Cedarburg, which we thought would be a great location for our deli.”

Messina – An Italian Market, opened in 1998. The store did very well and their business grew.

By 2006, the Raffaeles were ready to move on. They wanted to expand and the deli was not big enough. They found land on Progress Drive in Saukville, just a bit north of and visible from Highway 33.

They built the restaurant and opened their doors on March 14, 2006.

“We did okay when we opened,” said Leigh Raffaele, “but were lucky to be written up by Dennis Getto from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We didn’t have our full liquor license at first, so it was slower until we had that.”

“We had a lot of really nice articles written,” said Carmelo Raffaele.

Getto voted Messina one of the Milwaukee area’s top new restaurants in 2006. Per Messina’s website, Getto wrote that the restaurant had everything, not just Italian entrees. That they are also known for great steaks and fresh seafood is important to the couple.

“We are a destination restaurant now,” said Leigh Raffaele.

“We have a good family here,” said Carmelo Raffaele. “Not just our children, Dominic and Erica, but our employees as well. Six of them have been here since we opened. We also have great customers. Many of them have become our good friends.”

Owners Leigh and Carmelo Raffaele decided after they married that
they wanted to open just such a place.
Photo by Art Dahlke

Both of them were truly surprised to be nominated for the Ozaukee Economic Development Small Business award. Making their living in a smaller community like Saukville, it just seems natural to support their fire and police departments, local churches and other area organizations. Carmelo Raffaele says he works very closely with the Chamber of Commerce and they are happy to do as much as they can, especially during the holiday season.

Although they have no current retirement plans, having grandchildren has given them a reason to think about it. Their daughter Erica had their first grandchild a year ago, and their son Dominic is expecting twin boys in the fall.

“We don’t know for sure what will happen,” said Carmelo Raffaele. “You can’t predict the future.”

Messina serves lunch and dinner, and has both carryout and delivery. They deliver throughout Ozaukee County.


Messina Italian Restaurant
151 N. Progress Drive, Saukville
Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 4-8 p.m.; Friday, 4-8:30 p.m. and Saturday, 5-8:30 p.m. Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-1p.m.