By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published May 15, 2012 at 11:01 AM

First things first: What's in a name?


There was no arm-wrestling match, no money exchanged hands, like having to buy a number off an established teammate, and there was no comparison as to whose Most Valuable Player trophy was bigger.

So how did Ryan Braun's number appear first on the marquee of his new restaurant venture with Aaron Rodgers?

"I came up with the idea, so eight had to come first," Braun joked in an exclusive interview with "We actually went both ways but I think eight-12 sounds better than 12-eight. So, I think it just sounded better, so we went with it that way."

Rodgers and Braun joined together with SURG Restaurant Group co-owners Omar Shaikh and Mike Polaski to come up with the concept for the restaurant that will be located at 17800 W. Bluemound Road

It was about a year in the making between the two longtime friends.

"This is an excellent opportunity for me to work with Ryan on a project that will create something for fans of the Packers, Brewers and sports in general, to take part in and enjoy," Rodgers said in a statement.

It was a natural for Braun to recommend Shaikh and Polaski, as Rodgers has seen first-hand how the SURG Group and Braun have worked together at Ryan Braun's Graffito in Downtown Milwaukee. The pair have entered into a similar licensing agreement with SURG.

"I was able to vouch for them," Braun said. "Because whenever you put your name on something – or I guess in this case, technically, our numbers – your reputation is on the line, so you want to know that you're dealing with good people who know what they're doing. Ultimately, neither of us knows much about the restaurant industry, so we're relying on their expertise."

The idea may have taken hold for Braun and Rodgers a year ago, but it took some time to develop into reality. The SURG Group was busy not only maintaining its own restaurants in Milwaukee, but opening up a high-end version of Graffito in Florida.

Braun said it was just this past winter, when his and Rodgers' offseasons overlapped, when the idea really gained momentum.

"If anyone knows these guys they're focused on their sport – you can't talk too much other business with them – and I'm not going to distract them," Shaikh said. "We have our share of challenges because you're working with two different parties, two different legal teams, two different agents and things like that, but it wasn't that difficult because they share a lot of the same vision. In many ways they're the same guy. I don't say this because of who they are, but honestly those guys are some of the classiest guys you'll ever meet. They say all the right things, they do all the right things.

"It was challenging of course, because it has to be, but not as challenging as people might think because they're just great guys and they wanted to do it, wanted to give back."

The restaurant, which is scheduled to open sometimes in the summer, will offer American cuisine with ingredients supplied by Hidden Creek Farms in New London, prepared in a wood fire grill. The group already owned a location there, and Braun and Rodgers like how it was accessible to a multitude of counties.

Naturally, memorabilia from both the Milwaukee Brewers' left fielder and Green Bay Packers quarterback will adorn the facility, and the pair are expected to make scheduled – and unscheduled – appearances.

"Their names alone and their reputations will bring people through the doors - it's up to us to execute," Shaikh said. "That's why we're bringing in a really strong team. We're excited and we're up for the challenge. We really are. It's an honor to do business with these guys. These guys are not only elite athletes, but they're great people. They really are.

While the SURG Group will own and operate 8-twelve, getting Braun and Rodgers as involved as possible is something all feel is important to the success of the venture.

"(Shaikh) asked us for our opinion on everything and it kind of gives us an opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process," Braun said. "But again, he's the expert so we kind of rely on his expertise. But yeah, he kind of throws everything by us and gets our input on basically everything."

Braun also acknowledged that 8-twelve may not be it for his partnership with Rodgers, as two native Californians realize how important Wisconsin and its fans are to them.

"Hopefully this is just a first step for us," the Brewers left-fielder said. "We both realized how fortunate we are to end up spending, hopefully, our entire professional careers in the state of Wisconsin. Just incredibly passionate fan bases, incredibly supportive. Both of us have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and I think we both want to make an effort to continue to be involved in the community and continue to do as many local businesses as possible."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.