Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm
A group of entrepreneurs who have individually made their marks on the Milwaukee nightlife scene with their concept restaurants and bars is banding together to form a new company with an aggressive strategy. The group members are Mike Eitel, owner of Trocadero, Red Light and Nomad and co-owner of Hi Hat and Hi Hat Garage; Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro, who own Comet, Fuel Cafe and Palomino; and Eric Wagner, the former president of Roaring Fork Restaurant Group LLC, which owns Milwaukee and Madison area Qdoba restaurants and Twisted Fork.
Eitel, Johnson, Montemurro and Wagner have created Diablos Rojos, which means Red Devils in Spanish. The new company plans to take the greater Milwaukee area by storm with their plan of opening new concept restaurants and bars, Eitel said.
"(Scott, Leslie and Mike) are definitely bringing a ton of creativity and incredible concept development to the table," Wagner said.
Wagner left Roaring Fork Restaurant Group in January and will serve in large part on the financial management side of Diablos Rojos.
The first venture for Diablos Rojos is Balzac, named after the French writer. The restaurant specializes in wine and small plate dining and is located in the space that previously housed Watermark at 1716 N. Arlington Place, in the Brady Street neighborhood.
Watermark ended its lease July 5, and Diablos Rojos signed a new lease for the space, Eitel said. In one month, the group renovated the inside of the restaurant and opened for business Aug. 11.
"The whole purpose is to change the wine experience and give it a new face in Milwaukee," Eitel said. "We are going to focus on wine and give way to the pretension of wine tasting."
Brian Miracle, a local wine purveyor who now resides in Chicago will serve as a sommelier for the restaurant and will offer classes, wine tasting sessions and education to Balzac customers as well as Hi Hat and Trocadero, Eitel said.
"The wait staff and Brian will be available at any time if a table wants a deeper level of understanding of wine," Wagner said.
Balzac offers 100 different kinds of wine, including eight kinds of champagne, at a wide array of prices to customers, Wagner said.
The interior of the restaurant features a humidity and temperature controlled wine cave for the more expensive wines, an idea taken from the storage concepts of Italian and French wineries, Eitel said. Most of the wine storage is in the customer area for viewing.
Balzac also has two bars, one featuring a unique martini list and one for wine tasting
With Miracle as the sommelier and a trained and knowledgeable wait staff, "people will learn more about wine without even realizing it because of the way it is presented," Eitel said.
Balzac’s wines are priced all over the board. The average small plate meal will range in price from $7 to $12, Wagner said. A table of two will typically order three or four plates to share, he said.
Since the establishment of Diablos Rojos, each owner will continue to run their existing businesses individually with the collaboration of the new group when adding menu items or other attributes in the future, Eitel said. Johnson and Montemurro are also silent partners in Trocadero and Red Light.
"We have talked about (creating a company together) for the last few years, and we have always been interested in getting involved with each other because we have complimentary talents," Wagner said. "When we talked about it more seriously, the Balzac opportunity came along. We saw it as a great avenue for us to go down, a solid opportunity for us to work together."
The wine bar concept of Balzac is one that Diablos Rojos will consider again as more opportunities come along, Eitel said, as well as recreating the existing concepts including Trocadero, Hi Hat or Palomino, Wagner said.
New concepts will be part of Diablos Rojos’ corporate structure going forward, Eitel said.
"We are not opposed to taking an existing concept and opening another unit. It depends on the space," Wagner said. "The great thing about this group is that we have huge latitude of flexibility."
The main focus for Diablos Rojos in creating new venues is the neighborhood the opportunity is in more than the idea of filling a niche in the marketplace, Wagner said.
"Mike, Scott and Leslie are really good at crafting the concept to fit a neighborhood as well as the demographic and the space (available)," Wagner said.
The group is taking a brief break from looking for new opportunities for restaurants with the opening of Balzac, but is hoping to open another concept sometime next spring, Wagner said. The idea of forming a management group for all of the restaurants is another idea that is being considered, Wagner said.
"As long as we continue to have success in each unit and continue to enjoy it, we are going to keep opening restaurants as long as it makes sense," Wagner said. "We are providing our employees with more opportunities and we enjoy it. I don’t see an end in sight."
August 19, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI