‘Johnny V’ expands into Tosa

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Restaurateur "Johnny V" Vassallo, who owns five restaurants and a coffee shop in downtown Milwaukee, is planning to open the first suburban location for his Mo’s family of restaurants. Vassallo plans to open a Mo’s Irish Pub in the former Ground Round restaurant building at the northwest corner of Bluemound Road and Highway 100 in Wauwatosa. Vassallo said he recently signed a long-term lease to occupy the building at 10844 W. Blue Mound Road, which is owned by a real estate investment trust (REIT).
The restaurant could be open in time for this year’s Irish Fest, which will be held Aug. 18-21 at Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Vassallo said.
The site is at the intersection of two busy roads, is just north of Interstate 94 and is a short drive from the Milwaukee County Zoo, Mayfair Mall and the Milwaukee County Research Park.
"I really like the location," Vassallo said. "I think Wauwatosa is beginning to position itself as the center of the (metro area). It’s really the bridge between Waukesha County and Milwaukee."
The Ground Round closed in February 2004 when its parent company closed all of its restaurants. Vassallo said he plans to spend almost $1 million to remodel the property for his restaurant.
In 2003, Vassallo opened the first Mo’s Irish Pub at 142 W. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee. He has since opened Mo’s A Place for Steaks, Moceans, Mo’s Cucina, Mocha and Monsoon Wok & Lounge, all in downtown Milwaukee. He also owns a Mo’s A Place for Steaks in downtown Indianapolis.
"We wanted to do another Irish pub for a while, but we just hadn’t found a location we were wild about," Vassallo said. "I think the Irish pub is a good transition from a Ground Road. Irish pubs appeal to people from 8 to 80 (years old). It really has a broad appeal."
Vassallo recently completed his purchase of the Posner building, 152 W. Wisconsin Ave. Mo’s Irish Pub, Mo’s Cucina and Vassallo’s company, Global Restaurant Systems, are located in the 108,334-square-foot, 97-year-old building. He has recently started the permitting process to gain the city’s approval to place a $250,000, 15-foot by 12-foot Jumbotron video board on the building, to create a Times Square look near the intersection of Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues.
In addition, Vassallo recently purchased 35 percent of Houston-based GuestBridge Inc. The company creates computer software that restaurants use for customer relations management and table management.
"He did invest a significant amount," said Claire Ellington, vice president of marketing and operations for GuestBridge.
Vassallo has convinced the company to move its headquarters to Milwaukee. GuestBridge will occupy space in the Posner building by the end of the month.
"We are very excited to be moving to Milwaukee," Ellington said. The company will have four employees in Milwaukee right away and could have about 20 employees here by next year, Vassallo said.
"We are working through the logistics and expect to be there by the end of the month," said GuestBridge chief executive officer Lewis Schrock. Several hundred restaurants across the nation use GuestBridge software, including all of Vasallo’s restaurants.
"The partnership (with Vassallo) will have multiple benefits for us," Schrock said. "He’s quite a mover and shaker in the industry."
Vassallo said he plans to remodel the Posner building and install technology infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet service to tenants. He plans to attract small, creative technology companies that need high-speed Internet. Stamm Business Technologies is considering a move to the Posner building from its current location at 116 E. Pleasant St.
"We are extremely interested in moving there," said Dave Stamm, president of Stamm Business Technologies. If the company makes the move, it would occupy about 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of space, Stamm said.
Plans for a boutique hotel and executive apartments in the Posner building have been dropped, Vassallo said. However, he still hopes to attract an upscale salon and spa to the first floor of the building.
Vassallo still plans to open more restaurants. Vassallo said he is close to a deal on a location for a Moceans in downtown Indianapolis.
Also, Vassallo says he is in the early stages of a deal to locate a Monsoon Wok and Lounge in downtown Houston.
"Talks are talks," he said. "It takes a long time to put it together."

June 10, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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