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Milwaukee boasts the fifth largest Polish population in the United States and yet has only one Polish restaurant, Polonez. (We do have a Polish deli, A&J on Lincoln Avenue, as well.)
George Burzynski – who owns the restaurant with his wife, Aleksandra – says when Polonez closes someday, Milwaukee will most likely not see another one.
"The younger generation doesn’t go so much for Polish food. They like fast food or more modern places or they are vegetarians or vegans," he says.
The Burzynskis have two children, but neither of them is interested in continuing the business. One is a medical doctor and the other has a Ph.D. in writing.
"I wish I had somebody to take over the restaurant, but it didn’t work out that way," says Burzynski, who moved to Milwaukee from Poland in 1980 after receiving a masters degree in economics. He met his wife at a party in May 1983 and they married in October, just two weeks after they opened the restaurant together.
"We didn’t get married so quickly because there was a baby on the way. I was 35 and I was ready to say ‘I do,’" he says. "But because the restaurant opened before we got married, I like to say the restaurant is my first wife and she is my second."
Originally, Polonez was located on 6th and Lincoln, and moved to the current St. Francis location in 2001. The current space is large and brightly lit with numerous nods to Polish culture, including mannequins presumably dressed in vintage Poland-made garb and a Coat of Arms of Poland wall-hanging.
The menu features classic Polish dishes – mostly the recipes of Burzynski’s grandmother – and includes pierogie, stuffed cabbage, sausages, a variety of soups including barszcz and dill pickle and perfect house-made potato pancakes.
The portions are large and the prices are very affordable. There’s also a solid selection of Polish beer and cocktails, including a vodka drink that came with a side of pickle juice.
On weekends, Polonez has live music and a brunch.
Burzynski says he plans to keep the restaurant open as long as he can. For now, he still enjoys the work and his customers.
"I feel like I can work quite a few more years. I like making people happy and making them Polish food because there probably will be no more Polish restaurants here after me," he says.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.