Operating a restaurant is a tough business. Finding and then losing a favorite restaurant can be just as tough.
These are some of the restaurants that have closed in the city of Milwaukee in the past 25 years that we still miss — some for the great food, others because of the flavors they added to the city's culture.
These are just some of the restaurants that have exited. Share some of the places you miss in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Abu's Jerusalem of the Gold
What it was: One of Milwaukee’s first Middle Eastern restaurants.
When it opened: Khalil “Abu” Nasr opened Abu’s, 1978 N. Farwell Ave., in 1979; when he died in 1982, his widow, Alice, took over the business, followed by his son-in-law, Aboul-Zelof. Ownership changed in 2009.
When it closed: In early 2011, the restaurant closed for religious holidays and never reopened.
What it was: Pan-African restaurant — one of Milwaukee’s first — known for such dishes as peanut stew and Jollof rice, at 1107 N. King Drive.
When it opened: Yinka and Moji Adedokun, a couple from Nigeria, opened the restaurant in early 1994.
When it closed: African Hut closed its doors “temporarily” in 2008, citing a dearth of available parking and losses blamed on a brutal winter. It never reopened.
Bean Head Café
What it was: Upscale coffee shop and cyber café opened by four young Black entrepreneurs, serving coffee, soup and sandwiches, and providing much-needed meeting space on the city's north side.
When it opened: In November 2002 at 1835 N. King Drive, in what was seen as a big investment in the neighborhood.
When it closed: After the initial rush, Bean Head had trouble drawing customers, especially with a number of nearby storefronts still vacant, according to manager and part owner Jelani Nation. The café closed for good in November 2004.
The Boulevard Inn
What it was: Popular fine-dining restaurant with a supper-club vibe.
When it opened: Founded by Albert Gaulke in 1946 at 4300 W. Lloyd St., the Boulevard moved downtown to first-floor space at Cudahy Tower, 925 E. Wells St., in 1992.
When it closed: Restaurateur Joe Bartolotta bought the restaurant in mid-2003, with plans to turn it into a 1940s-style supper club. (Fine-dining spot Bacchus opened in the space in March 2004.)
Butch's Old Casino Steak House
What it was: Popular steak house at 555 N. James Lovell St.
When it opened: Restaurateur Butch Schettle first opened his Old Casino Steak House at Water Street and E. Juneau Avenue in 1986. The restaurant moved to the James Lovell Street location in late 1994.
When it closed: The restaurant closed in March 2015 after the building was sold to Marquette University, with plans for it to be razed and cleared as part of a bigger development.
What it was: A relaxed fine-dining restaurant with a contemporary American menu, noted for seasonal flavors and artistic presentation.
When it opened: Opened by chef-owner Thomas Hauck in 2012 at 1100 S. First St. in Walker’s Point.
When it closed: Hauck said in March 2018 that he had decided not to renew his lease, citing “changes in the Milwaukee restaurant market,” including an increase in the number of quality dining spots in the city, as well as financial fallout from the 2017 closure of Karl Ratzsch’s, which he had purchased in 2016. (c. 1880 had been on the Journal Sentinel’s Top 30 restaurants list every year from 2012-’17.)
What it was: Mexican restaurant with an emphasis on moles and a mix of tacos and upscale entrées from a variety of regions of Mexico.
When it opened: Bryce Clark and Sal Sanchez opened Cempazuchi at 1205 E. Brady St. in March 1999. The next year, it was on the Journal Sentinel’s Top 30 Restaurants list.
When it closed: Sanchez died in 2002; Clark announced in early 2017 that he was closing the business "to seek out new adventures.”
Chez Jacques/Jacques’ French Café
What it was: Casual French restaurant — for much of its time, Milwaukee’s only French restaurant — in Walker’s Point.
When it opened: Jacques and Debora Chaumet opened Jacques’ French Café in a small spot at 1101 S. Second St. in mid-2001. The restaurant was closed in the summer of 2006, when Jacques Chaumet opened a much larger version of the restaurant, dubbed Chez Jacques, in a former manufacturing building at 1022 S. First St.
When it closed: In late October 2016; Jacques Chaumet said he closed the restaurant for personal reasons.
What it was: East Side coffee bar, one of the city's first, at 2625 N. Downer Ave.; later, it expanded into a full-menu restaurant.
When it opened: Coffee Trader opened on East Park Place in 1971; after a fire, it moved to the Downer location in 1975.
When it closed: After years of diminishing business, the Coffee Trader lost its lease in the summer of 1998.
What it was: Casual, French-flavored restaurant founded in the Third Ward by James Beard Award-winning chef Sanford D’Amato and his wife, Angie.
When it opened: In February 1999 — nearly 10 years after D’Amato opened his first Milwaukee restaurant, the fine-dining spot Sanford — at 316 N. Milwaukee St. The D’Amatos sold the restaurant to chefs Nick Burki and Chris Hatleli in 2010.
When it closed: In February 2018. (A modern-style French restaurant, Fauntleroy, opened in the space a few months later; the restaurant, which made the Journal Sentinel’s Top 30 list, closed in 2020, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
What it was: Contemporary finer-dining American restaurant in Walker's Point.
When it opened: Chef-owner Peggy Magister opened Crazy Water in April 2002 in the space formerly occupied by Zur Krone tavern, 839 S. Second St.
When it closed: Magister closed Crazy Water in July 2020. Less than a week later, she and executive chef Emanuel Corona opened La Dama Mexican Kitchen and Bar, billed as a “refined Mexican cantina,” in the same space.
What it was: Spanish restaurant that had one of the Milwaukee area’s first tapas menus, along with other Spanish dishes such as paella on the menu.
When it opened: Elena Salas, who was born in Madrid and lived in Venezuela, opened Don Quijote at 2624 N. Downer Ave. in 1996. She moved the restaurant to 704 S. Second St. in the fall of 2003.
When it closed: July 2008.
George Watts Tea Shop
What it was: English-style tea room operating in George Watts & Son’s china shop at 761 N. Jefferson St. in downtown Milwaukee’s East Town neighborhood.
When it opened: The china, flatware and crystal store opened its doors in 1879; the Watts family built the terra cotta shop on Jefferson Street in the 1920s. A downtown tea shop, founded in 1911, moved into the Watts building in 1929; the Watts family took it over in 1951.
When it closed: Sam Watts, CEO of George Watts & Son, said in November 2016 he was shutting down the tea shop and the store at the end of the year and converting the business to an online retailer.
John Ernst Café
What it was: Served traditional German food in a fine-dining atmosphere at 600 E. Ogden Ave. Known for its Old World charm, it claimed to be Wisconsin’s oldest restaurant.
When it opened: Opened in 1878 as a two-story brick saloon with a beer garden. John Ernst bought and renamed the restaurant in 1938.
When it closed: Closed in May 2001, the victim of changing tastes and more fine-dining competition.
John Hawks Pub
What it was: The original John Hawks Pub was at 607 N. Broadway, a sub-street-level spot that became a fixture in downtown nightlife. In 1990, John Hawks relocated to the 100 East office tower, 100 E. Wisconsin Ave., and had one of the first outdoor patios along the then-new RiverWalk.
When it opened: In 1972 on North Broadway.
When it closed: In October 2016; not long after one of the owners disclosed plans to renovate the restaurant, the restaurant posted a notice saying it was closing and was not renewing its lease.
What it was: German restaurant at 320 E. Mason St. that for decades was a standard-bearer on Milwaukee’s dining scene.
When it opened: In 1904, on Water Street as Otto Hermann’s Café; Karl Ratzsch Sr., who had married Hermann's stepdaughter, Helen, moved the business to Mason Street and renamed it in 1929.
When it closed: Closed briefly when it was sold to restaurateur Thomas Hauck in 2016; Hauck wound up closing it for good in 2017.
What it was: Popular Walker’s Point Mexican restaurant, known as much for its mechanical chile pepper ride as for its food.
When it opened: Owners Nick and JoAnne Anton opened the restaurant at 734 S. Fiffh St. in December 1995.
When it closed: The Antons sold the building and closed the restaurant in July 2016. Hamburger Mary’s, the restaurant chain that also offers drag shows and bingo for charity, moved into the space a couple months later.
What it was: Italian restaurant and popular lunch spot that helped turn Brady Street into a dining destination.
When it opened: Girolama "Mimma" Megna opened Mimma’s at 1301 E. Brady St. in 1989, after running an Italian deli in Cedarburg.
When it closed: At the end of 2016, Megna retired and sold the building to the family that operated Jo-Cat's Pub next door.
What it was: Contemporary American fine-dining restaurant with a menu driven by seasonal, regional foods.
When it opened: Chef Jan Kelly opened the restaurant at 5921 W. Vliet St. in August 2007.
When it closed: Kelly, a California native, closed Meritage in August 2016 when she moved back to the West Coast. The restaurant was on dining critic Carol Deptolla’s Top 30 list from 2008-’15.
Milwaukee Ale House
What it was: A restaurant and taproom that became a prime destination on the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward.
When it opened: Jim McCabe opened the Ale House In 1997 at 233 N. Water St. as the home base for Milwaukee Brewing Co.
When it closed: In September 2022, after losing its lease. (Milwaukee Brewing Co. had sold its brands to Eagle Park Brewing, which did not take up the lease. Milwaukee Ale House at 1208 13th Ave. in Grafton remains open; it was sold to new owners in 2011.)
What it was: Fine-dining Japanese restaurant with an extensive menu running from fresh sushi to Kobe beef.
When it opened: Opened in February 2001 at 408 E. Chicago St.
When it closed: In March 2011; at the time, co-owner Richard Kaiser blamed the closing on customers spending less money and the rising cost of goods from Japan. A month later, after a rush of support from former customers, Kaiser said the restaurant would reopen with a new lease. Instead, Kanpai, a sushi and Japanese small-plates restaurant, took over the space under owner Brian Park.
What it was: One of the Milwaukee area’s first farm-to-table restaurants, Roots actually was two restaurants, with fine-dining space upstairs and more casual space downstairs, called the Cellar. Unlike some farm-to-table restaurants, Roots grew produce right outside the restaurant.
When it opened: Chef John Raymond opened Roots, at 1818 N. Hubbard St. in Milwaukee’s Brewers Hill neighborhood, in 2004, making dining critic Dennis Getto’s list of the city’s top 30 restaurants the following year. (Roots remained on Getto’s and dining critic Carol Deptolla’s Top 30 lists for its entire run.)
When it closed: Raymond “stepped away” from ownership of the restaurant in September 2012. The building’s owner then announced plans for a new fine-dining restaurant, Wolf Peach.
What it was: Walker’s Point bar and restaurant with an upscale but casual vibe and a sophisticated menu that helped set a local trend.
When it opened: Chef-owner Kevin Sloan opened The Social in October 2000 at 434 S. Second St. It moved into much larger space, at 170 S. First St., in late 2005.
When it closed: In early 2009.
What it was: Carry-out soup restaurant in Walker’s Point modeled after the soup spot that inspired the “Soup Nazi” bit on “Seinfeld,” including a diverse menu of creative soup flavors.
When it opened: Owner Richard Regner opened Soup Brothers at 209 W. Florida St in 1999.
When it closed: Regner closed the restaurant in July 2022, citing the decline in business during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as issues with staffing and the restaurant’s building.
What it was: Downtown Chinese-American restaurant, known for its traditional dishes and gilded Chinese décor. It was one of the first Chinese-owned restaurants in Milwaukee.
When it opened: Charlie Toy (born Moy Toy Ni) opened the first Toy’s restaurant on North Plankinton Avenue in 1904. In 1912, he built a six-story building, which included the restaurant and a movie theater, on North Second Street. The building was demolished after World War II; the restaurant moved first to 300 W. Wisconsin Ave. and then to 830 N. King Drive.
When it closed: Toy’s closed in 2002. A few months later, the space was reopened by its new owners as Pacific Rim Restaurant and later became the King & I Thai restaurant.
What it was: Like Roots, its predecessor in the space at 1818 N. Hubbard St., Wolf Peach relied on locally grown ingredients for its “rustic European" dishes. After installing one of the city’s first wood-burning pizza ovens, it became known for its Neapolitan-style pizzas. And like Roots, Wolf Peach was a Top 30 mainstay.
When it opened: Opened in October 2012, with executive chef Dan Jacobs.
When it closed: Closed in early 2018, after the building’s owner put it up for sale.
RELATED: Milwaukee-area restaurants that closed in 2023
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Closed Milwaukee restaurants we miss from Karl Ratzch’s to Wolf Peach