Leslie Montemurro and Scott Johnson, two owners of the Milwaukee-based BelAir Cantina restaurants, have sold their stock in the business to third partner, Kristyn Eitel, and new operating partner, chef Noe Zamora.
Eitel and Zamora assumed sole ownership of the Cali-Mex restaurant chain on August 30. In addition to all six BelAir locations, Eitel has taken over sister brands Finks and Fuel Cafe on 5th.
Montemurro, Johnson and Eitel are the original three partners in BelAir's parent company Toro Toro Toro Inc. They opened the first BelAir Cantina in 2010 at 1935 N. Water St. on Milwaukee's East Side and have since opened five other locations, in Wauwatosa, Oak Creek, Madison, Brookfield and on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee. The trio has worked to ensure a positive, informed and seamless transition, according a news release Monday.
Montemurro and Johnson's departure from BelAir comes after 29 years in the restaurant business.
"It’s been an amazing and crazy journey. Now it’s time to explore some other dreams in life," said Montemurro.
Montemurro and Johnson, through their other restaurant group Mojofuco Inc., remain majority owners of Balzac andHi-Hat/Garage, both located on Milwaukee's East Side. Eitel also owns a stake in those restaurants.
A Milwaukee hospitality industry veteran, Eitel will prioritize growth, consistency, and sustainability as she navigates this next chapter for the BelAir brand, especially as the restaurant industry continues to recover from the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Flexibility, patience, and simply listening better have to be three of the major takeaways from the last few years,” said Eitel. "I believe our restaurants need to live authentically in the communities in which they occupy. To do that, it’s our job to support the people, initiatives, and priorities that ultimately push us all forward. BelAir Cantina is a space that prides itself on the notion of ‘come as you are’ ... these are establishments where you will always have a seat at the table.”
Eitel plans to bring back the Powered by Tacos program, a philanthropic effort that raises funds that are directly reinvested in surrounding communities. The program was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its inception, the Powered by Tacos program has awarded $153,000 to local organizations and community efforts. Past recipients of funds are the Tosa Skate Park, Urban Ecology Center, Camp Minikani, Journey House and Ronald McDonald House Charities. The next beneficiary of the program will be announced in the months to come as the program begins to take off, according to the release.
A concept born and raised in Milwaukee, BelAir Cantina is a Wisconsin staple known for its casual and comfortable atmosphere accompanied by a unique lineup of tacos, margaritas, and more.
BelAir's newest operating partner Zamora has helped build BelAir's loyal following with menu offerings that combine traditional Mexican cooking with unique flavors and techniques. BelAir's menu has continued to evolve since the concept first opened in 2010.
"Being a part of BelAir Cantina has been an incredible experience and I love the opportunities of this concept," said Zamora. "I’m so proud of the menu we have now and all the dishes we’ve created since 2010. We’ve just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to show the city what’s to come."
"When we opened our second BelAir location, that was the moment when we felt a sense of not only accomplishment for the brand, but a sense of confidence. That if we worked hard and stayed true to our mission and vision, we could grow,” said Eitel. "I/we are still finding our footing as we continue to come out of lasting impacts of the pandemic along with current industry challenges. However, I’m happy for Scott and Leslie as they embrace their next chapter. I can honestly say, our confidence comes from within our team. I’m fortunate to work with Noe, an experienced and passionate partner that is all-in and excited for what’s to come. It’s absolutely wonderful."