It’s been over two years since John Hawk’s Pub, a restaurant boasting a 45-year history in Downtown Milwaukee, closed at 100 E. Wisconsin Ave.
But new life is on the way for a portion of the space, thanks to Tua Pasta, a counter-service fast casual restaurant which will specialize in fresh pasta, salads and gelato, all of which can be customized to diners’ tastes. The concept is expected to open as soon as late spring or early summer.
Behind Tua Pasta is Alvaro Niño de Guzman Sr., formerly of Cooper Power Systems, and his son, Alvaro Niño de Guzman Jr., a UW-Milwaukee graduate and hospitality industry veteran whose career has ranged from bartender to server and cook.
"I spent my career creating and managing businesses for others,’ Guzman Sr. says. "And I decided I’d really like to own my own business. Our goal was to bring something new to the city, and the fresh pasta concept is something I saw in my travels, particularly in South America and Europe. Opening a restaurant made sense; it capitalizes on my business experience and my son’s skills in the industry."
The father and son team have signed a lease on the northern portion of the former restaurant, a total of just over 4,200 square feet. The plan, Guzman Jr. says, is to create a modern space with a clean industrial look and feel. They will remove the dropped ceilings, install an open, counter-side kitchen and fill the dining area with high-top tables.
"It’s a white box right now," says Guzman Sr., but he says the goal is to create a bright space filled with plenty of natural light that opens onto the beautiful RiverWalk patio. All told, he says, there will likely be seating for up to 120 guests.
"We’ve been working on this project for almost two years, searching for locations and really doing the market analysis needed to determine demand," says Guzman Jr. "It was critical for us to find a space that had natural foot traffic. There are always people Downtown, during the workday an in summer for festivals."
Made-to-order pasta, salads, gelato
Tua Pasta, Italian for "your pasta," reflects the operational model of the restaurant, which provides a fast-casual counter-service experience where diners are offered the opportunity to customize their entrees.
Pasta will be made in-house. In fact, Guzman Sr. says the pasta-making equipment will be visible through the windows along the RiverWalk, providing a culinary show for patio diners and passers by.
The pasta will be served via an open kitchen concept where pasta dishes (and salads) will be prepared to order in front of customers. Each guest will order at the counter, choosing from a rotating selection of pastas (from extruded to strands and ribbons) along with sauces (including choices like marinara, four-cheese, alfredo and bolognese). The goal will be to serve each guest in 4-5 minutes time.
A similar process will apply to the restaurant’s housemade gelato, which will be churned to order with inclusions like chocolate, fruits and nuts.
"Our business was born in Milwaukee," says Guzman Jr. "So we’ll try to support other local businesses as much as possible. In the end, our goal is to give people a fast-casual experience with high quality fine dining ingredients."
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.