When Mike Schmidt closed his original Bella's Fat Cat location in April 2008, it seemed as though Brady Street would be forever changed without a nice, easy spot to grab a great burger for the right price.
A neighbor to the south, Mazen Muna, didn't want to see that happen. Muna owns The Dogg Haus, the Chicago-style hot dog shop that started at 1433 E. Brady St. and has since expanded to three more locations. Schmidt wanted to focus more time on the larger Bella's locations on Oakland and Kinnickinnic Avenues, but Muna, well, he figured he might as well add another one to the mix.
The Burger Joint opened at 1233 E. Brady St. in June 2008, marking Muna's fifth Milwaukee restaurant, though his first venture away from hot dogs.
Any loyal customer of Bella's, which dished up big burgers and creamy custard in the spot for seven years, will notice that The Burger Joint's menu is vastly similar in style -- burgers, fries and custard. This wasn't a form of plagiarism on Muna's part, but rather a strategic move that he hoped would easy the neighborhood's pain of losing a mainstay.
"Michael Schmidt and I have a good business relationship. He didn't want to just sell it to anyone who might come in and ruin the place. And I didn't want that either; I wanted to keep Brady Street nice."
Muna says he kept the restaurant's menu similar to Bella's simply because it was and still is a good fit for the neighborhood. People had long since gotten accustomed to the idea of having a burger and custard place on the street and he wasn't about to take it away from them.
But that's not to say it's exactly the same. Like Bella's, Burger Joint customers can choose from beef, turkey or veggie patties, but Muna has taken the burger menu to another level. Like at The Dogg Haus, you choose from either a variety of 30 random toppings or a list of a dozen or so specialty concoctions mixing various cheese, sauces and vegetables.
While items on The Dogg Haus menu are named after places, The Burger Joint's sandwiches are named for people that coincide with the restaurant's overall old-school ganger theme -- The Capone, the Dillinger, The Tony Montana. The Arsonist, by the way, is a winner for anyone who can handle the 12 hot sauces, jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and giardinaria they pile on top.
The Burger Joint also does wings.
"I thought, if we're going to be open late (3 a.m. on weekends), this should be an appropriate product for us to have," he says. "I remember going out in college and I would have died for half a dozen wings as a night cap."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”