‘Johnny V’ takes a bite out of the Big Apple

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm

"Johnny V" Vassallo, the owner of Milwaukee-based Mo’s Resaturants, is planning to open an upscale seafood restaurant in New York this summer.

Vassallo plans to open a Moceans restaurant in a 4,500-square-foot space at the corner of East 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. The building’s actual address is 345 Park Ave., and it is located about a block northeast of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The restaurant will open in July and will have 110 seats, Vassallo said.

The only other Moceans location is at 747 N. Broadway in downtown Milwaukee, which Vassallo opened in 2004 in the space formerly occupied by Grenadier’s. Vassallo said he believes his Moceans concept will be a good fit in New York.

"I think what we (will) do there is spectacular," he said. "I just think from a seafood standpoint, we’re incredibly competitive."

Vassallo said he was eager to enter New York, which he called, "the greatest restaurant market in the country."

New York also is a highly competitive restaurant market, but Vassallo said he likes to compete and believes he has a plan to succeed there.

"I just think we will compete by providing great hospitality, consistent food, bringing the freshest seafood to market that we possibly can," he said.

Vassallo also owns Mo’s A Place for Steaks in downtown Milwaukee and downtown Indianapolis; Mo’s Cucina in downtown Milwaukee; Mocha in downtown Milwaukee; Monsoon in downtown Milwaukee, Brookfield and Houston; and Mo’s Irish Pub in downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.

He also is looking for a location in New York for a Mo’s A Place for Steaks restaurant.

The Mo’s Irish Pub in Wauwatosa opened in December and has been a big success so far, Vassallo said.

"It’s exceeding all of our expectations," he said.

The new restaurant is doing so well that the 75 parking spaces on the property at the northwest corner of Highway 100 and Bluemound Road have not been enough, causing a parking problem in the area. As a result, Vassallo plans to purchase the Pizza Hut restaurant property, located across North 108th Place to the west at 10870 W. Bluemound Road. Vassallo would not disclose the purchase price, but said he plans to close on the deal by the end of this month.

The Pizza Hut restaurant will be closed after the sale is complete. The property will instantly provide the Wauwatosa Mo’s Irish Pub with an additional 40 parking spaces. The Pizza Hut building will eventually be demolished, creating room for another 21 parking spaces. Vassallo plans to add some brick columns and wrought iron fencing to spruce up the parking lot expansion.

The Monsoon locations in Brookfield and downtown Houston opened last year. An Asian themed restaurant similar to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, the Brookfield Monsoon location is doing "incredibly well," while the Houston location is just doing "OK," Vassallo said.

The Houston Monsoon is packed during the lunch hour, but is still struggling to attract customers for dinner, he said. The restaurant also had some management issues that needed to be addressed.

"It was a tougher opening than we anticipated," Vassallo said. "We know we have to build a dinner business. We’re working on that. Lunchtime is as busy as can be. We just have to give people a reason to stay (at night)."

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