Pizza Man opened yesterday on the corner of Downer and Belleview, and owner Mike Amidzich is thrilled with how the space turned out – as well as the new location.
"It’s a dream location," he says. "This street is wonderful. It has so much ambiance."
Pizza Man joins a strong – and growing – network of Downer Avenue restaurants including Cafe Hollander, Henry’s, The Original Pancake House and VIA.
VIA, which opened in 2010, specializes in the same cuisines as Pizza Man. Specifically, of course, pizza and pasta dishes.
"The merchants on Downer generally work well together. We have a great relationship with the other restaurants," says John Rosetto, who owns VIA (and Transfer Pizzeria Cafe), along with Russell Rossetto and Krzysztof Zielinski.
However, Pizza Man is the first pizza competition for VIA. Is this problematic for either business?
"I don’t think you can have too much pizza. VIA will always have their fans, we’re going to have ours," says Amidzich. "And you can’t eat at the same restaurant all the time."
It’s the same with beer. Pizza Man specializes in American craft beer and Hollander has the Belgian beer niche. People have different tastes and usually ever-changing cravings for different beverages.
"There’s room for everybody," he says.
Amidzich says he learned this first-hand while operating Pizza Man in its former location on North Avenue. In the ‘80s, he watched Rocky Rococo move into a space across the street on Kenilworth Place and was worried the popular pizza chain would take away business from Pizza Man.
"After a while, we didn’t even know they were there. They were successful, we were successful," he says. "We ate at VIA, at Hollander. They both have great food. So does Sala, also in the neighborhood. We’re just going to add more choice, more variety. We see ourselves as part of a team. We want to help bring more people to Downer Avenue."
Although the three were not regulars at the former Pizza Man, the VIA owners says the few times they went, they liked it.
"We are fans of atmosphere and uniqueness of physical space and love any restaurant that can pull it together in a way that engages their customers. The previous Pizza Man had that mastered," says Rosetto.
"They created a story over many years that went beyond food and service, the typical restaurant measuring sticks. We dig places that manage that. We look forward to seeing how they reinvent themselves in a larger space on a different street."
For the most part, Rossetto sees Pizza Man’s opening as an opportunity to draw more people to the area – which is good for all of the businesses.
"We do believe it will have a positive impact on Downer Avenue and will introduce or reintroduce many customers to the area that have not visited," says Rossetto. "We think we have a chance to have some of those visitors discover VIA and love VIA. I think that's our opportunity."
Competition also inspires businesses to examine what they do well, what they want to improve and, in general, to tighten up their game.
"We've gone through the same process that we would have if any other full-service restaurant opened up down the street. We try to determine how we might be different, how we might serve to different niche(s), and we try to play to our strengths," says Rossetto. "We think we have a great establishment and we also believe everyone on the street can be successful together."
Downer Avenue has a conflicting reputation. Some still see it as the trendy destination it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s during the Coffee Trader era. Others believe it lost its luster.
"We heard plenty of negative opinions about the ability to succeed on Downer when we decided to come here. I think folks – from other parts of the city – would hear about a restaurant failure or two and consider the neighborhood to be a place where you couldn't succeed," says Rossetto. "We never understood that because Café Hollander had always done very, very well. Pancake House does well. It's a great street to do business."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.