It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, with winners getting dished out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!
The former Hybrid Lounge at 707 E. Brady St. is in for a big transformation thanks to the vision -- and persistence -- of two brothers who'd like to bring a classic burger joint to the East Side strip.
Hot Box Burger Shop is the name of the concept created by brothers Anthony and James Roufus, two industry veterans whose goal is to bring an old school custard stand vibe to the East Side.
"We’re really envisioning what I call a custard burger parlor with a bar," notes James Roufus, noting that the decor will focus on nostalgic Milwaukee images including tastefully presented portraits of famous folks with a connection to the Cream City. The vibe will be underscored with "jukebox style" music and a casual atmosphere featuring bar seating as well as accommodations at high-top L-rails.
The menu at Hot Box is expected to include single-, double- and triple-decker butter burgers as well as sandwiches, sausages, taco fritos and fries, all of which can be ordered at a kitchen window inside the restaurant.
There will also be housemade custard in flavors including vanilla, chocolate and a rotating twist flavor. There will also be a secret menu featuring about 10 different items varying from sandwiches to dessert items.
The venue’s bar will serve beer, cider and a limited selection of cocktails including housemade Bloody Marys and "At Random style" drinks made with frozen custard.
"It's not going to be the sort of bar where you'll go to order a gin and tonic," says Roufus, noting that the bar will also forego the addition of televisions in the space.
Plans for Hot Box Burger Shop have been in the works for more than a year.
"My cousin Salvator [Sivilotti] owns the building," says Roufus. "And he's a business man, so he consulted with us about his ideas for the building."
In fact, Roufus says the restaurant has been through countless iterations, largely due to restrictions related to the building’s historical status; but he says he and his brother have slowly zeroed in on plans that will accommodate both their original concept and the wishes of the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Committee.
"Originally, we wanted to create a vibe like Nite Owl or Leon’s with a walk-up window that faced Brady Street. We thought it would be cool to be able to offer streetside service, especially since food trucks aren’t allowed on Brady. But, the Historic Preservation Committee turned down those plans. So, we’re moving forward an amended concept that hopefully captures a good portion of what we initially planned."
To execute the design of the space, the Roufus brothers partnered with Thomas Vavra of Vavra Design LLC, an experienced professional whose resume includes projects like the Modjeska Theatre, Goodkind in Bay View and the nearby Up-Down MKE.
"Tom is a great guy, and he’s been with us now, guiding us through the whole process," says Roufus. "In fact, at this point he’s earned an eternal ‘eat free card’!"
Roufus says that once open he hopes the restaurant will appeal to a broad range of folks in the area.
"There’s no good place to get custard on Brady Street, so we’re hoping to attract families with kids, college kids, young professionals… really this is a place for everyone," he says.
Roufus says the restaurant is shooting for an opening near the first of the year. Once open, Hot Box Burger Shop will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to close and Friday through Sunday from noon to close.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.