It’s one thing when you’re a chef who owns his or her own restaurant, or who has the opportunity to design a menu for an established restaurant concept.
But, what happens when a chef doesn’t yet have a space to call his or her own?
That’s a question that Chef Gregory Leon has been asking for the past six months as he and his partner, Orry DeYoung, search for the perfect place to open Amilinda, a restaurant concept focusing on Spanish and Portuguese inspired fare with a focus on local, Wisconsin ingredients.
"Starting a restaurant is expensive," Leon says, as we enjoy a cup of coffee at the National Café, 839 W. National Ave. "So, we’ve been taking our time to really establish a presence here in the city before we secure a space."
The business partners say they’ve settled on Walker’s Point as their home base, but are still waiting on enough investment capital to open a place of their own, which would include a daytime cooking school for area families, offering education related to preparing healthy meals on a budget.
"I really love this neighborhood," says Leon. "It’s a natural fit with a great demographic for what we have in mind. And I love that it’s been established as a restaurant destination. It’s definitely where we’d like to be."
In the meantime, they’ve been pulling together monthly pop-up dinners in private residences and commercial kitchen spaces like the new Milwaukee Kitchen at Keefe Avenue and Booth Street in Riverwest, and Linda Mullholland’s Cocina de Leon, located at 18900 W. Bluemound Rd., in Brookfield.
Leon and DeYoung have also been building relationships with area farms, like Wildridge Farms in Waubeka, LaClare Family Farm in Chilton, Rushing Waters Fishery in Palmyra, Ruegsegger Farms in Paoli, and Morningstar Farms in Hartford.
"It’s been a great way for people to get to know and enjoy the restaurant concept while we’re working on getting funding," says DeYoung, who has been handling the marketing and service end of the concept. "But, we’re excited about giving people a more regular taste of what we can offer."
Enter Chef Nell Benton, owner of The National Café in Walker’s Point, whose business operates between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Benton, who purchased the café in 2011 for $100, reached an agreement with Leon and DeYoung this past week by which she will allow them to offer dinners at The National Café during off-hours, primarily Saturday evenings. In return for the use of the space, Amilinda will pay Benton a nominal fee, as well as funneling all beer and wine sales through The National.
"Greg is an excellent chef," Benton notes, "And I want him and Orry to succeed in their dream of opening a restaurant. I know what it's like to struggle with the initial financing of opening your own place, and as I got so lucky with The National, I am in a position to pay it forward by giving others a boost and helping them realize their dreams."
Thanks to this unique partnership, Amilinda will have a regular location to offer dinner service, which will include a small menu featuring three starters, three entrées and three dessert options – including dishes like charred squid salad, beef espetada (seasoned beef skewers), coriander scented Alentejana style grilled pork chops with clams, pork vinha d'alho (garlic and wine marinated pork), and bocca negra chocolate cake with crème fraiche and cinnamon rose syrup.
Leon says that Amilinda will offer its first dinner service on Friday, May 2. In the weeks following, the pop-up restaurant will be open weekly for Saturday evening dinner service between 6 and 9:30 p.m.
"This partnership will allow us to increase our current collaboration with area farmers and offer a wider range of menu items for people to choose from," says DeYoung. "It will also allow us to showcase a more authentic restaurant experience for guests."
Benton notes that one of the many reasons she was eager to host Amilinda is that their concept reaches well beyond ordinary restaurant confines in its support of the community.
"Providing low-cost healthy cooking classes to families in the area is something I am very interested in," Benton explains. "I have worked with kids from Journey House, as well as a local school to teach healthy eating classes, with hands-on demos of making healthy wraps using ingredients such as hummus and fresh veggies. I so appreciate that Greg and Orry are actively interested in contributing to this community, and I will support them in any way that I can."
Although walk-ins are welcome during Amilinda's service at The National, reservations are recommended. Call (414) 369-3683, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.