After 43 years, Kiesows say staff, customers havebecome like a family
It has been more than four decades since Jim and Maria Kiesow began serving Italian food and other favorites at the Pasta Shoppe restaurant in downtown Port Washington.
By the end of the year, the menu and the staff will be intact but the ownership will be different.
The Kiesows have announced plans are being finalized to sell the poplar restaurant to the Glendale-based Sullivan Food Service, owned by Michael Sullivan.
The company provides food services to schools and corporations, and operates several Culver’s restaurants in the Oconomowoc area.
The transaction came about quickly.
“After 43-1/2 years, we began thinking about retiring,” Maria Kiesow said.
“When our daughter and her husband (Katie and Brett Kucharski) said they had no interest in running the restaurant without us, we decided to put it on the market. Personally, I think they would have stayed forever if we stayed.”
Kiesow said it was difficult knowing the business was for sale yet not wanting to worry customers or employees until a deal was in place.
It wasn’t long before Sullivan contacted the couple to say he was interested in buying the restaurant.
“We had never met before, but he seems like a really nice guy,” Kiesow said.
More importantly, she said Sullivan told the current owners he wants to retain the entire staff and keep using the time-tested recipes that have made the restaurant a popular dining spot. Sullivan told the couple he also intends to continue the restaurant’s line of frozen pizza.
The hardest part of the sale, Kiesow said, was breaking the news to longtime employees and loyal customers.
“We have had people coming here from Day One, so leaving the restaurant will feel like we are losing family members,” she said.
“I could name a lot of cases where three generations of customers have been coming here to dine. Kids who used to come here with their parents are now bringing their own kids.”
Similarly, some of the wait staff and cooks have been working at the Pasta Shoppe for decades.
“When every thing came together, we called a staff meeting, passed around glasses of champagne and said, ‘We would like to toast our big news,’” Kiesow said.
“Everyone was shocked and surprised, but I think they were also very happy for us. We have a great staff and it is going to be hard not seeing them every day.”
The Kiesows bought the former Sammy’s Pizza at 323 N. Franklin St. in 1973 from Sam Marchese.
During an Ozaukee Press interview in 2013 — the 40th anniversary of the restaurant — Jim Kiesow said he used to come to fish in Port and one day noticed the local pizza parlor was for sale.
He said the purchase was made almost on a whim.
“Since buying the business, I really haven’t had much time for fishing anymore,” Mr. Kiesow said.
In those early days, Mrs. Kiesow continued to work full-time as a nurse, cooking at the restaurant whenever she could.
Five years ago, she retired from nursing after 37 years and became a fixture at the restaurant.
“I make the specials on Saturday nights, and I can just about predict who will be coming in depending on what the special is,” Mrs. Kiesow said. “I also know which customers will be staying home, because they don’t like their pasta in cream sauce or whatever.”
She said the dining options in Port have changed dramatically since the restaurant first opened.
“There were no fast-food restaurants in Port back then … no McDonald’s or Arby’s,” Mrs. Kiesow said, noting that casual diners flocked to places like Harry’s and Kratzer’s.
“That is one of the things we have enjoyed most about being downtown. We have had a chance to watch Port evolve and grow into the thriving community it is today,” she said.
The restaurant itself has seen its share of changes, including when the upstairs residence was converted into dining space in 1981. A second remodeling followed in 1998, expanding the capacity to 99 diners.
Transfer of the restaurant’s liquor license will be presented to the Port Washington Common Council next week.
If that and various state approvals go through without a hitch, the transition in ownership is expected to be completed in December.
The sale will include the building and business.
“It will be a clean break,” Kiesow said.
Then, the Kiesows will have to adjust to life without the daily demands of running a restaurant.
“I am planning on spending more time with our new grandchild, and maybe I’ll finally get around to cleaning out a few closets,” Mrs. Kiesow said.
“Jim is a wildlife painter, and he would like to spend a little more time painting.”
Image Information: THE PASTA SHOPPE owners Jim and Maria Kiesow shared a toast outside their downtown Port Washington restaurant. After 43 years in business, the couple have decided to sell the popular dining spot. The new owner will be Mike Sullivan of Sullivan Food Service.