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In Dining

Arin Bert Coffee & Grill is decorated in the Armenian national colors, red, orange and blue. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

Attorney Joseph Seifert eats lunch at the Armenian restaurant and coffee shop he set up for his in-laws. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

Razmik Kalenjian, Seifert's brother-in-law, grills skewered meat at Arin Bert. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

Distant civil war leads to new Armenian restaurant Downtown


Few new restaurants sprout in Milwaukee as a direct result of a civil war. Few Wisconsinites get married to a soundtrack of artillery fire in the distance.

But those are the roots of Arin Bert Coffee & Grill, which recently opened in a Downtown storefront that over several decades has housed Finch's Corned Beef, Five Dollar Deli, Philly Way, Wingz and Amazon Pizza. The address is 222 W. Wells St.

Arin Bert has two identities. It is a coffee shop serving a complete line of Alterra products, baked goods, frappes, smoothies and Italian sodas. It is also an Armenian restaurant that serves traditional cuisine from the Caucasus Mountains.

Owner Joseph Seifert says his closest Armenian competitor is in Glenview, Ill.

Named after a famous Armenian fortress the arch-enemy Turks never conquered, the informal Arin Bert features counter service. Beef, pork and chicken are ground or chunked, placed on skewers and grilled before being served as platters ($7.95 to $8.95) or in wraps ($5.95 to $6.50).

Platters come with sauce, two sides, rice pilaf or fries, and an Armenian flat bread called lavash. The sides include hummus, tabouli, carrot salad, potato-beet salad, pickled cabbage, and a warm red bean adjiga (paste). Wraps are accompanied by hummus, rice, sumac onion and sauce.

Falafel is also offered as a platter ($6.25) and wrap ($4.75). Ton, an Armenian style yogurt drink with salt and mint, is on the menu. Arin Bert opens at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and a breakfast wrap of eggs, cheese and cucumbers is available in the morning.

Authentic desserts made on the premises include baklava and drunken cherry chocolate torte. Armenian baklava substitutes rose water or orange blossom water for honey, resulting in a less sweet pastry. The drunken cherry chocolate torte is dense but light.

Seifert is a Muskego native and attorney with a compelling story. Not knowing a word of Russian, he moved to Moscow in 1990 after Mikhail Gorbachev opened the Soviet Union to private enterprise.

"I was young and daring," he recently explained while having lunch at Arin Bert. "I was looking for business opportunities."

Joined by a partner, he opened a cosmetics factory, but when the partner was assassinated in 1993, Seifert knew his Russian adventure would be coming to a close. "The mob was out of control, and it was getting too dangerous to do business there," he said.

Seifert had fallen in love with an Armenian woman from the old Soviet republic of Georgia while he was in Moscow, and the two married in Georgia while a civil war was being fought around them. Manuchak Seifert came to the U.S. with her new husband. She is a registered nurse at Froedtert Hospital.

Meanwhile, her family was caught in a war zone, and the fighting took the lives of more than 150 of her relatives. At one point, Joseph Seifert traveled back to Georgia to bring Manuchak's then 11-year-old niece to the safety of the U.S.

The Seiferts were eventually able to move the niece's entire family – Manuchak's brother, sister-in-law and nephew – to Milwaukee, and that is how Arin Bert Coffee & Grill came to be.

Joseph knew restaurant management, having owned a supper club in Mosinee before he moved to Moscow. Manuchak's family included an aunt who was a famous Armenian pastry chef, and her brother, Razmik Kalenjian, had kitchen experience.

When the storefront below Joseph's law office in the Century Building became vacant, he saw an opportunity to set his Armenian in-laws up in the restaurant business. Razmik, his wife Susana and their two children, now adults, are all involved in Arin Bert.

The original plan was to operate just the Armenian grill, but the Century Building owner suggested to Seifert that the neighborhood needed a coffee shop, and the adjacent retail space was also vacant. A dividing wall was removed, and Arin Bert's concept was expanded.

About 55 can be seated indoors, and a few tables are placed on the sidewalk in pleasant weather. Seifert said he and his brother-in-law are partners in the venture, and they plan to eventually offer Downtown food delivery.

Arin Bert is open to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. A Sunday Armenian brunch may be added in the future. A website is under construction.


Talkbacks

get_rad | April 1, 2013 at 10:43 a.m. (report)

I finally got a chance to get here over the weekend. Wonderful stuff! I ordered a falafel platter which comes with rice pilaf or fries, and 2 sides. I had the tabouli and beet/potato salad. Tasty tasty food! I also ordered a falafel wrap which was also very tasty and delicious. The restaurant is pretty low key and the folks there were very helpful. Keep up the good work!

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Danno | May 3, 2012 at 5:54 p.m. (report)

Food is high quality. I think the hummus needs more flavor as it was just OK for me.

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mkeofficemgr | April 25, 2012 at 12:37 p.m. (report)

I just had lunch here and it was amazing. I work across the street and have eaten at all of the previous restaurants in this same space. The food and service at Arin Bert far surpass all of the previous tenants. My food was ready in a matter of a few minutes and they were doing a brisk takeout business too. The garlic sauce is similar to that of the famous Zankou Chicken in California. Do your taste-buds a favor. Skip the Subway next door and go to Arin Bert.

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