By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Mar 24, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Celebrity restaurants arrive with a healthy side dish of skepticism. Is star power enough to drive consistent business? Will the food be good? How involved is the celebrity? All relevant questions.

I liked Ryan Braun's Waterfront. The patio was amazing and food decent. But, I thought the décor and white tablecloth touches were a bit "too nice" for the vibe it was going for.  

So, out with the old and in with the new as SURG Restaurant Group prepares to put its creative spin on the Brewers slugger's hopeful "new" hot spot at 102 N. Water St. in the Historic Third Ward.

I wanted to know more about Ryan Braun's Graffito (and sure you do, too) so I asked Omar Shaikh from SURG Restaurant Group five questions.

SURG owns Graffito, Carnevor, Umami Moto, Charro (which also has a Brookfield location), Mikey's, Nuovo Centanni and Distil.

Braun's Graffito and chef Dominic Zumpano's "scratch Italian cooking" open to the general public on April 4.  How do you wipe clean the image of the "old" Ryan Braun's Waterfront?

Omar Shaikh: We are staying focused on providing a top-notch experience for all of our guests. Between the new ambience, menu and style of service, we are confident the public will be believers within a short period of time.

OMC: What are the challenges and opportunities when creating a celebrity restaurant?

OS: We believe that with Ryan's name and our known level of service and quality menus, there is a great opportunity to bring the masses of people in. We're proud of the reputation SURG restaurants are establishing and adding an all-star's name does introduce us to a crowd that might not have heard about Graffito. The only challenge in a restaurant group / celebrity partnership could be if the two didn't have the same vision or principles. We are fortunate, because since we began this journey with Ryan it was clear both sides share the same expectations, and the customers will feel that the minute they walk in the door.

OMC: Why haven't "celebrity" restaurants worked in Milwaukee?

OS: While there have not been that many, we believe the ones in the past have not succeeded because the former celebrities were hardly ever present. Ryan is the type of guy who will be present often. He enjoys Milwaukee, the fans and great food! He is also a great person and good to the general public, which helps with his image and that of the restaurant. SURG has proven to provide top-notch service with award-winning cuisine. Aside from having a celebrity name to Graffito, SURG has brought in an award winning chef (Zumpano, who used to lead the kitchens at Umami Moto and Charro) and a very experienced management team.

OMC: Which celebrity restaurants do you like and why?

OS: There are two great celebrity restaurants that come to mind: Elway's in Denver and Ditka's in Chicago. Both brought in experienced operators to launch and run the restaurants. These operators practice many of the same philosophies our SURG management implements in our own restaurants. Celebrity involvement or not, great food and service leads to repeat visits and that is what leads you to success.

OMC: What does Braun want people to take away from their experience at his new place?

OS: Very simple, Ryan would like the people that visit the restaurant to leave with a feeling everything was so good they can't wait to come back.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.