Bartolotta Restaurants to begin phased reopening

Flagship location Ristorante Bartolotta to reopen next week


After a near four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Bartolotta Restaurants is beginning to revive its Milwaukee-area restaurants in light of a new normal for the restaurant industry.

The group announced Tuesday that Ristorante Bartolotta will resume service on July 8, as the first of Bartolotta’s 17 restaurants to reopen since mid-March. Other reopenings will be announced in the coming weeks, according to a press release.

“As we prepare to reopen, we are grateful for the continued support of our community and our partners, but most importantly we are thankful for our team members who did not give up on us during this time,” said chef, co-founder and owner Paul Bartolotta in a statement. “This has been a challenging time for our community, but we are ready to move forward.”

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Ristorante Bartolotta, located in the Wauwatosa Village area, will reopen with a number of new health and safety procedures to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

There will be expanded outdoor seating on the new “La Terrazza” patio, adjacent to Bartolotta’s neighboring concept Pizzeria Piccola. Both indoor and outdoor seating is spaced out and separated by custom-made partitions, and tables will be disinfected after each party. UV-C technology has been installed inside the building to disinfect the air and hard surfaces.

Diners are required to wear face masks when entering the building and seated while interacting with staff, who are also required to be masked. Diners must also place reservations and will be subject to temperature checks upon entry.

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Unlike most area restaurants that relied on curbside pick-up and delivery service while dining rooms were mandated to shut down, The Bartolotta Restaurants kept its doors completely shut. In a late-April interview with BizTimes Milwaukee, Bartolotta said the decision was made with the safety of his 950 employees at top of mind.

Thanks to loans granted to The Bartolotta Restaurants through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, the business was able to keep employees on the payroll without putting them at risk. Of course, sales suffered, but the bottom line isn’t the priority, Bartolotta said at the time.

Catching up with BizTimes on Tuesday, Bartolotta said getting back to business amid an ongoing public health and economic crisis is necessary to continue paying employees once the CARES Act funding ends at the end of July.

He hasn’t taken that decision lightly. The local impact of COVID-19 on public health and consumer confidence were also heavily considered.

“At the end of the day, it was a race to get my organization ready for this moment so that if I need to put (employees) on the front line, have I done everything I could to create the safest possible (environment) within my knowledge, expertise, energy, financial resources? Have I gone all in on that reality? And I believe that I have,” said Bartolotta.

The company’s reopening plan has been in the works for months and draws on outside expertise, including health professionals at the Medical College of Wisconsin, but it’s not perfect, he said. Opening one restaurant at a time with limited business hours will allow changes and improvements to be made when necessary.

“Everything we do is intensely focused on evolving, improving,” said Bartolotta.

That philosophy does not exclude the operator’s food.

Risorante’s executive chef Juan Urbieta has rolled out a revised rotating menu themed around various regions of Italy, starting with Tuscany. The menu will offer a traditional Italian Tuscan meal for $59 per person. Guests can build their own four-course meal by choosing an antipasti (appetizer), primi (pasta course), secondi (main course), and dolci (dessert).

“My family lived in Tuscany and I have missed being on the coast and the countryside of Toscana and in the city of Florence,” said Bartolotta. “With this menu, guests will be able to experience the beauty and charm of Tuscan dining without leaving Milwaukee.”

When Ristorante reopens next week, business hours will be limited to Wednesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 9 p.m., with weekend lunch service on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 2 p.m., beginning July 11. The lunch menu will include an additional three-course option for $49.

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