Riverfront restaurant planned at R1VER campus

Rendering of the location for Benson's Restaurant Group's new concept at the R1VER campus. Credit: Rinka Architecture

Last updated on January 31st, 2022 at 02:24 pm

The owners of Milwaukee restaurants AJ Bombers and Onesto are expanding their footprint into the city’s Harbor District, with plans to develop a 6,000-square-foot restaurant along the Kinnickinnic River.

Milwaukee-based Benson’s Restaurant Group, formerly known as Hospitality Democracy, has struck a joint venture with Becher Development LLC to open its newest concept this summer at R1VER, a mixed-use development project led by Brownsville-based infrastructure construction company Michels Corp. Becher Development is an affiliate of Michels Corp.

The yet-to-be-named restaurant will be situated beneath R1VER’s Tribute apartments on the east side of the campus. Initial permits are to be filed Jan. 27, with construction on the river-level space beginning soon. The eatery will feature outdoor seating along the riverwalk. Its name and menu concept will be announced at a later date, according to a news release Thursday.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the team at R1VER to bring an outstanding dining experience to the campus and its corporate and residential tenants, while adding a unique dining option to the Harbor District and Bay View areas,” said David Marcus, CEO of Benson’s Restaurant Group.

The company’s recent rebrand came after two decades operating as Hospitality Democracy, which was originally founded in 2000 by Angie and Joe Sorge. In 2018, Milwaukee-based Marcus Investments took over the business, after having purchased a majority stake in 2011. The investment allowed the group to grow and open more restaurants; its current lineup includes Onesto, Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria, Smoke Shack and AJ Bombers. The group is also the franchisor of Zaffiro’s pizza brand.

“We recently renamed our company, in part, to reflect our interest and plans to grow, including in new ways such as working with quality partners like Tim Michels and his team,” said Marcus.

The name “Benson’s” pays homage to Ben Marcus, the founder of The Marcus Corp., his son Steve Marcus, and his grandsons David Marcus, Greg Marcus and Andrew Marcus.

The Marcus family’s track record of restaurant operations dates back to 1958 when Ben acquired the franchise rights for the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa Big Boy Restaurants of America. The company operated those restaurants for more 30 years, selling the operation in 1995. The Marcus family has also owned, franchised and operated Kentucky Fried Chicken, Captain’s Steak Joynt and Applebee’s locations. In the past decade, the Marcus family involvement in restaurants has grown through its investment in Hospitality Democracy.

“Benson’s Restaurant Group’s roster of dining establishments in the Milwaukee-area is unparalleled, and we wanted to work with its team to develop and operate this anchor offering on the campus,” said Tim Michels, co-owner of Becher Development and co-owner and vice president of Michels Corp. “The restaurant will mirror the campus’ goal of fostering a community, and will create an inviting space with delicious offerings.”

In addition to the restaurant, the R1VER development includes office (including the Michels Corp. office space) and retail space, luxury apartments, hotel plans and 1,000 ft. public river walk. Benson’s Restaurant Group is working with RINKA Architecture on the design of the restaurant, which will be one of the first new restaurant builds in the City of Milwaukee since the pandemic, according to the release.

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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