By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 19, 2002 at 5:44 AM

You can't help but wonder if the area near Farwell and North Avenues is cursed by the god of fire. Century Hall was consumed by fire and Beans and Barley and Sweet Doomed Angel suffered similar fates not long after.

In late August of this year, Ma Fischer's, 2214 N. Farwell Ave., an East Side landmark which has been dishing up diner-style cuisine since 1947, was engulfed in flames.

Owner George Panagiotolopoulos said that the fire was caused by the restaurant's neon sign -- the same sign that hearkened to hungry customers 24 hours a day.

Fans of Ma's, which is especially popular with the post-bar crowd that transforms the family-owned restaurant into something of an after-bar party, were devastated to peer through the smoke-stained windows into the blackened void. A gaping hole in the roof left them wondering about the future of a neighborhood institution.

"Every day we get phone calls (asking about when the restaurant will reopen)," Panagiotolopoulos said recently. "Every single day."

Work on the restaurant is progressing and Panagiotolopoulos assures that the restaurant will not only reopen, but will be better than ever.

"There are going to be a lot of changes, a lot of new looks on the inside and outside," said Panagiotolopoulos, who also owns the Riverbrook Restaurant at 1111 E. Capitol Dr. in Shorewood.

"There's going to be a patio in the parking lot for 50 or 60 people. There's going to be a whole new look. It's going to go back to the 1960s, 1950s, with new booths, new seats, everything."

"There has been a big hole for breakfast and late night eats on the East Side since Ma's suffered their fire," said Jim Plaisted, Executive Director, East Side B.I.D. #20. "We can't wait for them to reopen with their new look and outdoor patio."

Panagiotolopoulos said that he is working to secure a license to sell beer and wine, too, by the time Ma's reopens for business. When will that be?

Panagiotolopoulos hedged a bit, but is banking on January.

"Middle of January," he said, adding "between the first week and the last week of January."

Oh, yes, there'll be one more big change at Ma's.

"No more neon," said Panagiotolopoulos, laughing, but sounding like he was only half kidding. "You betcha life, buddy. I've got enough experience with them."

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.