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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

Culinary no-no #171

Culinary no-no's

 

Jennifer, Kyla and I headed to Milwaukee’s fabulous lakefront earlier this week to spend some of my vacation time.  Our lunchtime stop was the Northpoint, run by the Bartolotta’s.

Yummy stuff, but a definite weight watcher’s nightmare. What a pleasant surprise to see young and old, bikers, cyclists, businesspeople on lunch breaks all taking in this welcome, quality addition to the lakeshore.

South of Northpoint, at the old Pieces of Eight restaurant site, workers are busy preparing the next Bartolotta installment, Harbor House for its opening next month.  Unlike the spotty reputation Pieces of Eight had to fight for years, Harbor House, I’m guessing will be a jewel heartily endorsed by consumers, right there, right on the lakefront, right next to the water.

I’d love to see even more quality development along Lake Michigan. Who cares if the tree huggers go into orbit. For now, we settle for two Bartolotta establishments, albeit one of them open seasonally.

It’s too bad Tony Pepito wasn’t as fortunate as Joe Bartolotta was with his quest for fine waterfront dining.

Two years ago, I blogged in defense of Club Porticello, a restaurant owned by Pepito adjacent to Silver Lake in Oconomowoc.

For quite some time, the local bureaucrats fought like hell to keep the restaurant from opening, threatening heavy fines because it was too close to the shoreline. It was a perfect example of how Wisconsin hates business.

But then the locals came to their senses and allowed the restaurant to open. Unfortunately, that was not the end of story or business harassment.

Who do you think would enter the picture and gum up the works? Takes but one guess. A local business, on some shoreline property. Who always throws tacks in the road? Who lives for finding ways to throw up obstacles to business opening up shop?

Did someone say the DNR (Department of Natural Resources)?

DING DING DING DING!

What did come as a surprise to me was that Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen joined forces with the DNR to resurrect the attack against Club Porticello instead of letting local officials handle the situation and getting off Club Porticello’s back.

At the time, jsonline.com reported:

State sues to overturn restaurant opening

Waukesha — The state has filed suit to overturn Oconomowoc’s decision allowing a restaurant to open on the shore of Silver Lake.

In the civil suit, state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen contends that Oconomowoc zoning commissioners improperly granted variances for Club Porticello, which opened for business in May.

On behalf of the state Department of Natural Resources, the suit alleges that Oconomowoc officials violated the law, partly by failing to address “extensive testimony” that the restaurant would hurt water quality and fish habitats at Silver Lake.

The restaurant is just 17 feet from the shoreline, which normally would not be permitted except for Oconomowoc’s approved variances.

The state’s suit, filed last week in Waukesha County Circuit Court, seeks a judge’s ruling overturning the variances and granting a restraining order on the matter.
###

Then on September 25, 2008, I blogged, "DNR bullies get sand kicked in their face":

Wednesday afternoon while filling in for Mark Belling on Newstalk 1130 WISN, I recognized the famous voice in my headphones during some of the spot breaks. Legendary Milwaukee radio celebrity Bob Barry was promoting a new restaurant in Oconomowoc called, “Porticello.”

With glee, I smiled. You have no idea how happy I am that Porticello is up, operating, has a website, and is advertising on a 50-thousand watt radio station like WISN. It has to be driving the tyrannical Department of Natural Resources (DNR) out of their power-hungry minds.

For months, the owner of Porticello, located on Silver Lake, desperately tried to open but ran into roadblocks from the state agency that absolutely loves making life for ordinary citizens as miserable as possible. That would be the DNR, not so affectionately referred to by some as Damn Near Russia.

The DNR tried to put its collective foot down (as always) that a restaurant couldn’t open in what was a vacant, deteriorating building because it was just too darn close to the lake. After all, who ever heard of a restaurant with a water view? How preposterous! We can't have that!

But in the end, the DNR lost, and a persistent and patient entrepreneur won, and it’s just got to grind the DNR’s beans. They had an opportunity to not only make it agonizing for a business, but prevent it from opening altogether. But like Eric Gagne in the 8th inning, the DNR blew it.

They have to be kicking themselves knowing that this…..

 





is right next to this:





Silver Lake


In June, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, "Last month, (Porticello owner Anthony) Pipito was granted the city zoning variances he needed to legally open Club Porticello on the shore of Silver Lake, despite opponents’ claims that the business will degrade the lake environment.The state Department of Natural Resources has sued the city in Waukesha County Circuit Court, challenging the approval of the zoning variance. The state also sued the city in 2006 and succeeded in getting overturned several zoning variances granted to Pipito by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The small shoreline restaurant/bar building, just 17 feet from the water, underwent a $1 million renovation that transformed it from a beach house to a mini-villa."

It’s everything government bureaucrats hate……a business with great potential for success, drawing in people who will spend money that will help the economy and create jobs. Capitalism in action, virtually on top of a lake!

Ooooh, I bet some DNR minions were taken to the woodshed for dropping the ball big time. Just check out these pictures.

A restaurant, and a bar, only a few steps away from the lake! What an atrocity! The horror! How on God’s green earth could we, the all-powerful, all-knowing DNR allow this injustice to happen????

Even a bully loses a fight once in awhile. It’s nice to see the DNR suffer a black eye.

I wish Porticello the best of luck.
###

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel restaurant critic Carol Deptolla was impressed. I, too, can attest to how marvelous the Club Porticello experience was. One of my favorites is Sicilian Steak. On our drive drive to Silver Lake I was supremely confident Club Porticello would not disappoint.

You may be aware this story does not have a happy ending.The restaurant closed this spring. Too many government rules, regulations, obstacles, hoops and legal payments did Tony Pepito in.

Wisconsin's excruciatingly frustrating anti-business climate harangued and harassed a business owner until finally he said, no more.

In the end, government made life so difficult for a business owner because he dared to fight back and because his business was too close to the water. The incoming revenue and source of jobs be damned.

I mention the Club Porticello injustice because this past week I ran into the gentlemen who isntalled all the beautiful windows and glasswork at the restaurant. He bluntly told me the former building will now merely sit on the lake and become an empty, ugly eyesore for years to come.

Wonderful economic development strategy, isn't it?

I'm positive that if other entrepreneurs were to approach Milwaukee officilas and inquire about duplicating what the Bartolotta's are doing with Harbor House on Lake Michigan, they would most assuredly get a chilly reception.

Contrast that mindset and what happened to Pepito to what's gone on in Texas and Hawaii and Florida.

It reminds me of a public hearing the state conducted when Tony Earl (good grief) was governor. Earl supported building a prison in the Menomenee Valley. Then- Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, his heart set on a new stadium in the vicinity, couldn't bear it. I recall his testimony that other cities place restraurnats and shops and fountains and other amenities around their new ballparks, and here was the state of Wisconsin, insisting on a corrections facility in eye's view of a new stadium.

There is no reason why Club Porticello couldn't be serving Sicilian Steak on Father's Day 2010. Petty, shortsighted, mindless politics finally shut its doors. The quick demise of Club Porticello is one glaring example of our horrific business climate.

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