If you were one of the many Bay View diners who was bummed out when Annona Bistro, 2643 S. Kinnickinic Ave., quietly shut its doors in October, then you might take some solace in knowing that a new restaurant will soon take its place.
And though the new restaurant doesn't have a name yet, or even a completely solidified theme or menu, chances are it'll be good -- because it's set to become the latest venture from Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro. That's the pair that has brought Milwaukee Fuel Café, Comet Café, Balzac, Palomino and half of Hi-Hat and the Garage.
"It's just really cool that we had the chance to get it," says Johnson. "I was really surprised that Annona went out of business. I always had really great food and service."
That said, Johnson sees the vacancy as an opportunity, and isn't rushing to name the restaurant or hammer down a theme.
"Having done so many restaurants, we can take our time," he says. "You have to make the concept fit the space."
Johnson says the restaurant will resemble Comet in some ways, but will be smoke-free. It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as alcohol. He says the cuisine will focus on comfort food and big portions with a laid-back vibe.
"It will reflect the stuff that we're into."
Johnson expects to open the restaurant in April or May, and he's encouraged that the space itself is in great shape.
Says Johnson, "That's the easy part. It's really nice the way it was set up before. There's not a lot of wear and tear. I like the space, as is, and won't do a lot to it."
For Johnson, the biggest decisions will come down to staff and management, since between five restaurants and bars, he's come to know some of Milwaukee's best service staff. Once he figures that out, he'll begin working on the menu.
"We're excited about being across from Hi-Fi Café and Jose's Barber Shop, and next to Bill (Rouleau) at Rush-Mor Records -- all those people are pretty awesome. I'm really good friends (with the owner of) Solid State Tattoo ... it's a super-great area to be in."
Johnson is particularly humble about his place in the community, but with the opening of Palomino in 2002, he and Montemurro introduced many people to Milwaukee's "other East Side," Bay View. And while there has never been a shortage of bars in the area, Palomino was one of the first of the new wave to attract people from all across the city.
"I suppose, but we did it because we kept hearing about so many people buying houses down there. Everyone was coming up to the East Side to eat, so it was an easy niche."
Now Johnson can set his sights on KK, a street with a vibe that Johnson says he admires. He says he likes his landlord and his neighbors, and he's ready to get started -- and even during this unusual economic climate, he's keeping it all in perspective.
"Sometimes it's all really scary, and sometimes it seems really easy," says Johnson. "We have such a big, talented pool of people to draw from, and it makes it easier. Especially now, since things are kind of slow. We have all these people that are super talented, and there's just not a lot going on. Everyone's hustling double-time to try to get people in the door, so everyone's got a little bit of extra, 'let's do something' in them."
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.