It was 1969 when Leo "Dino" Dinon opened Dino’s at 808 E. Chambers St. in Riverwest. Over time, thanks to Dinon’s wife Rita's cooking, it soon became a cozy corner bar known for its delicious Italian fare, housemade pizzas and (eventually) wings. In the late 1980s, it was also one of the first bars in the city to serve Lakefront Brewery’s Riverwest Stein on tap.
When Dinon passed, the restaurant struggled, eventually closing in 2009. But in 2014, Dino's grandsons, Anthony and Lawrence Lococo, took up the family business, carrying on the legacy for four more years.
In 2018, the family made the decision to close for a second time; but this time, it marked the end of an era for a bar and restaurant that had been a Riverwest staple for over 50 years.
But a new era is beginning for Dino’s, thanks to partners Dan Budziszewski and Mike Brumm, who hope to get the bar and restaurant back up and running by October.
A dream made manifest
The two co-owners met while they were students at UW-LaCrosse, keeping in touch over the years even as their careers took them in different directions.
Budziszewski says he found work as a youth educator, pursuing music (most recently as part of the Funk Club Wagon and Funk Tune boat) and working in the service industry, bartending at spots like The Gig, Bremen Cafe and, more recently. as taproom manager at MobCraft. Brumm also pursued his interest in music, playing with local bands like The Pubby’s and Learning to Fly while spending his time refurbishing old homes and launching canoe and kayak tours with Adventure Milwaukee.
Last year, when the former Dino’s building went up for sale, Brumm purchased it. As he contemplated next steps, Budziszewski says he put his hat in the ring.
“I expressed my vision for the place,” he says, “Which is really a culmination of all of my experiences in the service industry, along with my longtime appreciation for Dino’s, a place I fell in love with years ago. As a musician, I’d come here to play, and it was always a great spot to hang out. They had great food, and I loved their wings.”
He was, in fact, among the musicians who played in the band at the Fare Thee Well, Dino’s closing bash.
“I remember joking that night that some of us should buy the place and bring back the wings,” he says.
Unbeknownst to him, his remark was a manifestation which would come to pass just two years later.
Reviving a neighborhood gem
As he hoped, Budziszewski is now bringing Dino’s back to life. They’ll keep the name, he says, as well as a number of key items.
“We have the recipes for Dino’s wings,” he says, “Which I’d rank right up there with Points East and the other great wing spots in the city. And we have their recipe for pizza as well. We also plan to continue serving Sunday brunch, with a very similar menu to what they offered.”
Among the changes will be the creation of a compact, curated menu featuring options like a burger, a chicken sandwich and numerous plant-based options.
“We’ll be introducing a small menu of elevated street food,” says Burdziszewski. “Maybe we’ll do a spaghetti night as an homage. Ultimately, we’re going to do things that are fun, that taste great and that we can serve quickly and efficiently.”
At the bar, he says, they will have a curated cocktail menu designed by Tyler Salzbrun, local musician, bartender and owner of Unspoken Services consulting.
“We’ll probably name the drinks after famous Riverwesters,” Budziszewski says. “After all, This project is really about Riverwesters bringing back a Riverwest institution.”
He says they will also make numerous improvements to the venue's service model. The bar will be set up with two POS systems and two bartenders, ensuring that customers are served in a timely fashion. Food and drink orders will be placed online (folks at the bar can order right on their phones) and either picked up at a counter in the restaurant or delivered to tables by food and drink runners.
“One of the biggest things for me is going to be great service," he underscores. "The new mission is to come back with a bang. We’ll be hosting live music, comedy. And most of all, we’re bringing back something that was really beloved in the neighborhood.”
Budziszewski says they're currently interviewing staff for various positions at Dino's. But he says they will likely open with a small, but strategic crew.
“That's partly because of the staff shortages. But it's also because we want to have a great staff filled with people who are knowledgeable about the food and beverages. And we’re going to make a statement by offering higher wages, eventually working up to offering benefits for our employees. We want everyone to be taken care of. We want to make it like a family.”
Budziszewski says there will also be updates to the look and feel of the longtime bar and restaurant. The work is going slowly, he says, due to supply chain delays and workforce shortages. But, little by little, fresh paint is transforming the walls, the bathrooms are being redone, and the kitchen is getting a refresh.
“We’re really giving the place a more modern look,” he says, noting that the dining room and stage area will feature new tables and a new sound system, which will extend to the bar and patio. They will also install a brand new TouchTunes jukebox and gambling machines in the bar.
The venue will also get a new logo, as well as updates to the exterior of the building.
A safe place for all
Overall, Budziszewski says, the goal is to create a warm, welcoming – and most importantly – inclusive space for folks from Riverwest and beyond.
“I love the neighborhood. I love the people here,” he says. “So we really want it to be the place where people drop by for great drinks, maybe some food… but most of all, we want to offer really great service. We also want to be sure that we are a safe, welcoming for everyone. That’s going to be the foundation of our mission.”
Once open, tentative hours for Dino’s are expected to be Tuesday through Friday 4 to midnight; Saturday noon to midnight; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., plus special hours to accommodate Packer games. Budziszewski says both carry-out and delivery will also be available.
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.