Amilinda, the restaurant concept which has been operating out of The National Café in Walker’s Point, will soon have a home of its own.
Partners and business owners Orry (DeYoung) Leon and Gregory Leon have signed a lease on the 1,800-square foot space at 315 E. Wisconsin Ave. which was the home of Chinese & Thai Hot Cafe', Tai Makii and Downtown Café.
The 19th century cream city brick building, adjacent to one housing Alem Ethiopian Village restaurant, will undergo primarily cosmetic changes, along with adjustments to the space to open up the kitchen, which will take over the next few months. The partners hope to open Amilinda by late spring or early summer.
"We’re approaching the feel of the space to make it as comfortable as possible, notes Orry, who says that the space will incorporate elements of both old and new styles, including family photographs, artwork and mirrors. "The feel will be very European in the sense that we want people to feel comfortable joining us for a meal and then lingering for conversation."
An open kitchen will bleed into the bar space, allowing interaction between kitchen and bar staff and guests.
Cuisine, which will be moderately priced, will resemble that served at Amilinda’s pop-up dinners and tasting events over the past year, with dishes influenced by the flavors of Spain, Portugal and the southern U.S.
Gregory met Orry, a Wisconsin native who gained experience in restaurant management and bartending while working his way through design school at the Illinois Institute of Art, shortly after moving to Milwaukee in 2012. The two hit it off – both personally and professionally – and have spent the past two years working together on the Amilinda brand.
When asked why he chose Milwaukee as the city where he’d establish his first restaurant, Gregory says that it was his experiences with area chefs and restaurant owners that really convinced him to make the city home.
"There wasn’t just one thing that made me decide to stay," he says. "But I do recall a conversation early on with Ross Bachhuber and Melissa at Odd Duck. They were telling me how Milwaukee’s chef community is so collaborative, and that really appealed to me. Literally, by the end of my meal, I had decided to stay here."
"That’s really been our experience," he says. "One day more recently we had brunch at Engine Co. 3, and Peter Sandroni came out to chat. He was super helpful to us, sharing information about farms and sources for products. It’s been so great to work with so many helpful people and to begin to be part of this close knit community."
Gregory also credits over a year of pop-up dinners with preparing him to meet the challenge of opening his own restaurant head-on.
"For me, the pop-ups have really allowed me to think about what the restaurant is going to look like, and to really develop the recipes that people will see there," he says. "Having a home base at the National really allowed us to grow our business to the point where we’ve been able to deal with some of the early growing pains experienced by new restaurants."
And with that, he offered up thanks to those who've been supportive of their efforts.
"We’re so grateful to so many people who’ve had our backs along the way," Gregory notes. "To the farmers who have supported us by growing great food, and allowing us to place such small orders for product. To Nell (Benton) and the National for giving us a home for the last eight months, and to all the individuals who put trust in us, allowed us to cook the food we love and really get a head start on building our business."
At Amilinda, Gregory will oversee the kitchen, while partner Orry handles all front of the house activities. And, although the partners plan to retain some of the staff they’ve been working with over the past year, Orry says they also plan to hire some new additions for the restaurant.
"After dreaming about this for twenty years, it’s hard not to be excited," says Gregory. "We’re really looking forward to opening our doors."
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.