By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 14, 2008 at 2:38 PM

Bartolotta Restaurants today announced an agreement with Stonewater Partners, owners of the historic Mackie Building, 225 E. Michigan St., that gives Bartolotta Catering full operational control of The Grain Exchange Room, a popular space for weddings, parties and other events.

The nearly 10,000-sq. ft., three story Grain Exchange Room will undergo renovations that will begin in February and are expected to be completed in April, at which time Bartolotta Catering will assume booking of space and beverage service, and will be the exclusive caterer after the transition.

“It’s a pretty cool room,” says Joe Bartolotta, “it’s been a catering facility for probably last 30 years and it’s gone through a lot of changes. But caterers have always been slightly handicapped because it’s not laid out very well logistically … (it's) very inefficient.

“As a result the quality events suffered a bit, as much as the caterers tried and they really did do a good job. So, our vision was to spruce it up a little bit and make it a little bit more current without losing any of the aesthectic charm of it.” 

A Bartolotta statement notes that, "The planned renovations will respect the integrity of the interior, however the carpeting will be replaced and a lighter coat of paint will be added to the walls without artwork. The gorgeous ceiling will remain untouched."

As part of the restoration, the Bridal Room and the restrooms will be updated and two working kitchens will be installed, one upstairs and one downstairs. Bartolotta says he believes it's worth the expense.

“We committed to a 10-year exclusive deal and they’ve got a really good vision for the building," says Bartolotta of the owners. "They didn’t just buy it to flip it. They’re emotionally connected to it.” 

Maria Bartolotta, sister of Joe and Paul Bartolotta, will run the operation at the Grain Exchange, which can accommodate groups of about 500. Maria ran the Bartolotta Catering business in its infancy and, more recently, helped to get Bacchus off the ground.

This is the third site-specific Bartolotta Catering location. The company also runs special events facilities at Boerner Botanical Gardens and Pier Wisconsin. Joe Bartolotta believes the Grain Exchange is a complement, rather than a competitor, to these venues.

"If anything it should help those," he says, "especially when something is booked we have the ability to suggest different spaces to the client and this has the largest capacity. It's a much larger space than the others."

In related news, Bartolotta was named Restaurateur of the Year by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and accepts his award tonight at Westmoor Country Club.

"I do what I love to do," Bartolotta says, a little sheepishly. "Yes, I’m excited but I’m a pretty humble guy and I don’t really like to take all the accolades. But I respect how hard this business is and I think we’re all winners, even though I know that sounds hokey."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.