Dino's returns with Italian food, family
Leo "Dino" Dinon opened the Riverwest bar, Dino's, in 1968. In the early '80s, his wife, Rita, started serving Italian food from the adjoining building and before long, the couple forged a reputation for offering a cozy spot with tasty and affordable home-cooked food including a coveted Friday night fish fry with the rare side of mostaccioli and meatballs.
In 2009, after Leo's passing and a few other family members taking a crack at running the place, Dino's closed. The space was empty for a few years until it quietly reopened last winter under the management of Leo's grandsons, Anthony and Lawrence Lococo.
"It's in our blood," says Anthony.
The brothers, who grew up in the business and worked there most of their lives, renamed it Dino's Riverwest and will launch the restaurant side of the business in June with an old-meets-new lunch and dinner menu.
"Reopening Dino's wasn't something we planned to do," says Lawrence. "I'm a drummer by trade."
However, eager for a new career, Anthony encouraged Lawrence to revive the Dino's space a few years ago. Originally, Anthony wanted to open a submarine sandwich shop, but over time, realized that Dino's already had a name and a good reputation and so the brothers decided to reintroduce the concept that would appeal to both long term and brand new customers.
They've already found that trying to appeal to everyone is tricky, but the Lococos are striving to offer old school charm and consistency with a modern, contemporary edge.
"We want to appeal to everyone, from our grandparents' friends to people in the neighborhood to the younger crowd," says Anthony.
The decision to keep the original orange "Dino's" sign was a particularly good choice because it nods to the past while adding a warmth and inviting aesthetic that's timeless.
The brothers, with the help of friends, completely renovated the space over the past two years. They refinished the floors, walls and the ceiling, added windows to the dining area and hung original, local art including a painting by the late, iconic Bob Watt.
"When we first got in here, we just started ripping the walls down, not knowing exactly where we were going with any of it," says Anthony.
Despite massive remodeling, the refurbished environment feels similar to the former space, but fresher, more spacious and modern.
Lawrence will serve as the head chef. He designed the menu with input from others and also with many of his grandmother's recipes. The menu will offer made-from-scratch Italian appetizers, entrées (pasta, seafood, steak), sandwiches, salads and more.
Plus, gluten-free bread and pasta will be available.
"I grew up watching my grandma cook," says Lawrence. "I would never change my grandma's recipes, but I added a few new items. This menu is rustic with a refined culinary touch to it."
The entrées will run between $12 and $15 – except the steak, which will be a bit more – as well as sandwiches around $8 and appetizers priced $6-8.
This summer, Dino's will unveil a new patio and a cocktail menu.
"At this point, we're in no hurry," says Lawrence. "We have been working on this for two years, what's a few more weeks? We want everything to be perfect."
As always, Dino's is a project of passion and family. The Lococo brothers will run the restaurant, but their grandmother Rita will still help out in the kitchen and other family members will also lend a hand or two.
"This place was built on my grandfather's personality and my grandmother's incredible cooking, and we want to keep that alive as we move forward," says Lawrence. "We want people to leave with more than a full stomach. We want them to leave with a sense of family."
Dino's is currently open for drinks Thursday through Saturday nights. In June (exact date to be determined), the restaurant will open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. Dino's will also host live music once a month.
Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee.com for more information.
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