The Original Pancake House closes Downer Avenue location

GM blames "sky-high" rent, pandemic challenges

The former Original Pancake House at 2621 N. Downer Ave. Photo by Google

Last updated on February 2nd, 2021 at 11:29 am

The Original Pancake House has closed its location on Milwaukee’s East Side after more than a decade in business.

The popular breakfast and brunch spot, located at 2621 N. Downer Ave., had its last day of service on Jan. 24, general manager Bob Frederickson confirmed Monday with Biztimes Milwaukee.

The closure came as East Side rent prices climb and business suffered at the hands of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our rent is sky high, and we tried to negotiate but to no avail,” he said. “We’d have to sign another five-year lease and we’re not able to do that.”

Sales had been weak, at least up until a couple of weeks ago once word got out about the restaurant’s plans to shutter, said Frederickson. He also manages The Original Pancake House in Brookfield, which remains open at 16460 W. Bluemound Road.

The Portland-based chain currently has 129 restaurants 29 states, according to its website. Aside from the Brookfield location, its only other Wisconsin restaurant is in Madison.

Milwaukee-based Dominion Properties has owned the North Downer Avenue building for 10 years. Responding to Frederickson’s comments, co-principal Mike O’Connor said in an email that the company did not drive The Original Pancake House out of the space with a “new” increase in the rent price.

The restaurant’s lease term had been scheduled to end in September 2021, and owner Joe DeRosa chose not to renew the lease. Dominion worked out an agreement with DeRosa that allowed him to move out of the space eight months early, said O’Connor.

BizTimes Milwaukee later interviewed DeRosa, who confirmed the agreement and said the financial impact of the pandemic and operating restrictions imposed by the City of Milwaukee were the major reason for the closure of the East Side restaurant.

“Our business just tanked …,” said DeRosa. “We were losing thousands and thousands of dollars every week. So that was real reason.”

Rent had gradually increased over the past 10-year lease period, said DeRosa, but “that’s what I agreed to.” He said Dominion did not raise rent last year amid the pandemic and allowed a hold on rent payments until the restaurant received financial relief from the federal government.

DeRosa is the owner of DeRosa Corp., which operates The Original Pancake House in Brookfield; Jose’s Blue Sombrero in Wauwatosa, Fox Point and Racine; the Chancery in Mequon and Parkside 23 in Brookfield.

Now that The Original Pancake House has moved out, Dominion is currently seeking a tenant for the 4,650-square-foot former Original Pancake House space. 

“Historic Downer Avenue is a great part of Milwaukee and needs another landmark restaurant,” said O’Connor. 

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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