By Mario Ziino Published Dec 08, 2003 at 5:54 AM Photography: Andy Tarnoff

{image1} Jim Thompson makes no bones about it. Visit J.T. Bones and Thompson promises to "treat your taste buds to an overdue and well deserved break from the ordinary."

Located at 801 E. Capitol Dr., J.T. Bones features barbeque ribs, catfish, chicken, shrimp and a zesty southern buffet in a sit down or carry-out style. But one visit and you'll be back.

With a successful grand opening on December 5, Thompson, a retired Miller Brewing Company executive with more than 30 years experience in the food business, is pleased with the debut of his new restaurant.

"It went exceptionally well," Thompson says of J.T. Bones's sneak preview that had several local politicians, including Alderman Michael D'Amato, Common Council President Marvin Pratt, County Board Chairman Lee Holloway and Urban League President and CEO Ralph Holloman, licking their chops. "I honestly have to say it was an overwhelming success."

Thompson's brainchild was prompted by his thriving festival food vending business, Charlie's Choice, which has operated at outdoor festivals, such as Milwaukee's annual Bastille Days, for more than 10 years.

"It had a lot to do with it," Thompson admits of the popular Charlie's Choice. "I've been around the food business most of my life. My brothers were in the restaurant business in Racine for a long time. I guess it runs in the family."

Gus Kelly, who spent 18 years as the director of food service at Milwaukee Area Technical College and who owned his own southern style buffet restaurant, Magnolia's on North Avenue, brings 38 years of experience in the industry to the table.

"I've known Gus Kelly for more than 30 years," Thompson says. "I'm fortunate to have Gus. I'd be lost without him."

Thompson also welcomes his son, Jason, who worked in several local restaurants, including Elsa on the Park, the Velvet Room and Louise's Italian Café, to join forces in the new venture.


"He ran Charlie's Choice for me for a number of years," Thompson adds. "He's working with Gus. Talk about being in capable hands. Jason has been the backbone of my business for a long time."

J.T. Bones will specialize in carry-out service but does having seating for 36 in an attractively decorated dining room setting.

Thompson has themed his walls with portraits of many national recognized African- American restaurateurs and musicians. As he puts it, "It's a tribute to these great people."

Featured are:

B. Smith, a former model, now owns B. Smith's Restaurants in New York and Washington D.C. She also has a television program called B. Smith with Style.

Sylvia Woods, owner of Silvia's Restaurant in Harlem, NY, is national recognized as the "Queen of Soul Food." She was featured in the September issue of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Leah Chase, owner of New Orleans' landmark Dooky Chase, is one of the most popular and one of the oldest African-American restaurants in the country, as is the Swett's Restaurant of Nashville, Tenn. A family-owned restaurant in business since 1954, Swett's offers some of the best meat-and-three meals in Tennessee.

Also on display are portraits of jazz vocalist Diane Reeves, jazz giant Sonny Rollins, the legendary Miles Davis and operatic soprano Sarah Vaughan.

J.T. Bones' to-go menu features a brief biography of each of the art pieces.

Food prices are quite affordable according to Thompson. The lunch menu prices range from $4.00 to $5.75 while the dinner prices go from $7.25 to $8.95. J. T. Bones also offers party trays ranging from $26 to $40, feeding anywhere from nine to 15 people.

Thompson foresees the prospects of growth for his business in Milwaukee. "We'll definitely open other places down the road," he says. "I'm actually looking at opening a second location in the near future."

J.T. Bones is open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.