Newest Port business owner has had a long fascination with cooking
In a culture that has coined the phrase “super-size me,” a new restaurant opening in Port Washington promises to be a breath of fresh air.
David Tainter plans to open Starters, a tapas restaurant, at 219 Franklin St. — most recently the home of the AlleyKatz bar.
Long popular around the globe but new to Ozaukee County, tapas restaurants specialize in serving appetizers, small-portion meals and lighter fare.
The menu is seen as promoting conversation because diners don’t have to devote their attention to tackling a large plate of food placed before them.
Tainter has 30 years of experience as a caterer and cook, but he intends to keep his “day job” at Caterpillar Inc. in South Milwaukee, where he has worked for 12 years.
“I want the restaurant to be something I can enjoy. Not something that stresses me out over covering my bills and meeting payroll,” he said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, not in culinary science but industrial technology, with an emphasis on electronics.
Still, Tainter said opening a restaurant has been a lifelong dream.
“Cooking is something I have always loved. The family story is that I grabbed a stool and began making my own scrambled eggs when I was 3. Of course, my sister says they were badly burnt and inedible, but that is not how I remember it,” he said.
Tainter said he was encouraged to open Starters by his childhood friend John Weinrich, who is also a Port restaurateur.
A Port High grad, Tainter admits he frequented the site of his restaurant over the years — including the days it was the Captain’s Quarters.
Although the ornate, century-old bar is being retained at the front of the building, it has been cut back to make room for the new kitchen. That kitchen will have a double convection oven and broiler, but no deep fryer.
“We are going to be a restaurant with a bar in front, rather than the other way around,” Tainter said.
On the west side of the building will be a dining room with seating for 48 and a small stage where live music and other acts will be offered.
To one side, a retail area will offer local produce, as well as artwork and pottery by area artists.
Ultimately, the restaurant is expected to have a staff of 14 to 16.
If Tainter could use just one word to describe the dining experience he intends for his patrons, it would be — sociable.
“Starters applauds the adventurous, yet gives foodies the chance to enjoy more than one item — and share with friends,” he said on the website announcing the new restaurant.
“Our small servings invite experimentation. And it’s not just about food. Great friendships, sharing a bottle of wine, beer assortments or other spirits are also part of the Starters experience.”
The restaurant’s unofficial motto is “Fine dining for those who like to share — or not.”
Stepping away from the American obsession with excess, Tainter said the small-plate tradition can be found in Spain’s tapas cafes, as well as Chinese dim sum and Greek meze.
“Then there’s science, which tells us that eating smaller, more frequent meals is simply healthier,” he said.
A quick glance at the menu shows that healthy eating doesn’t equate to bland.
There will be daily specials, but ongoing entree items will include beef and pork tenderloin medallions, sesame ginger shrimp, pulled chicken and strawberry balsamic salad, as well as classic beef, pork and seafood favorites. Rotating homemade soups and desserts will fill out the menu.
The smaller portions, and related lower price, invite diners to experiment.
“Even the desserts, like pie, will be cut into pieces to encourage sharing,” Tainter said.
Prices will be kept intentionally low to encourage frequent visits, he said.
Painting, electrical work, outfitting the kitchen and state licensing still need to be completed, but he said the goal is be ready for an Aug. 21 opening.
Tainter said he will offer catering from the location, as well.
Image information: owner David Tainter is retaining the mirrored back bar at the front of the building, but is rearranging much of the space at the rear to make room for a new kitchen and dining room.