Breaking ground for one Newport Shores, saying goodbye to another

Event signals Ansay is ready to move ahead with high-end lakefront development that will take a year to build on site of longtime restaurant slated for demolition

A FORMAL GROUNDBREAKING ceremony for Ansay Development’s Newport Shores project on Port Washington’s lakefront was held Monday. Among those participating were (from left) Andrew Castle of Catalyst Construction, Port Director of Planning and Development Bob Harris, City Administrator Tony Brown, James Sequenz of Rinka+, Ryan Raskin of Catalyst, Elliot Young and Matt Rinka, both of Rinka+, Ian McCain of Ansay Development, John Weinrich of Newport Shores restaurant, Nick Ansay of Powers Realty and Mike Ansay, managing general partner of Ansay Development. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Mike Ansay, managing general partner of Ansay Development, told the crowd assembled outside Newport Shores restaurant on Monday that it was a bittersweet day for restaurant owner John Weinrich.

It was the end of an era, Ansay said as the company broke ground on its Newport Shores development — a multi-million-dollar, mixed use building — that will take the place of the beloved restaurant on Port’s lakefront.

“We’re ever thankful for John,” Ansay said. 

Weinrich, in turn, thanked his staff and customers, saying, “We’re ready for the next leg of our journey.”

That journey will begin in the coming  weeks as contractors begin work on the project, Ian McCain, Ansay’s design/construction manager, said. 

The building will begin to come down in about two weeks, he said.

In its place, Ansay will spend the next year constructing a four-story building with 29 condominiums, office space, a store, rooftop pub and restaurant. Ansay officials said they hope to name the restaurant soon.

The project will encompass not only the Newport Shores building and an adjoining house but also an adjacent municipally owned parcel that’s being acquired through a land swap with the city.

Weinrich, who is an investor in the Newport Shores project, said he is ready for the change.

“I love the new project,” he said. “It’s gorgeous.”

While some people believe the modern design of the building isn’t in keeping with the historic downtown, Weinrich said it’s the right fit for the lakefront.

“This is its own little peninsula,” he said. “To try and make it look like downtown would have been a mistake. 

“You know what this reminds me of?” he asked, referring to the facade of the new building. “A 1958 Chris-Craft. We’re on the lakefront. It fits.”

Newport Shores restaurant has been a part of Port’s lakefront for decades. Weinrich and his uncle Richard Lehn bought the former Lakeview Lounge in 1989, when Weinrich was just 24.

Weinrich, a Port native, learned the business from the ground up, working first at the Riverview Inn in Saukville and later at Smith Bros. Fish Shanty and Port Hotel in Port Washington. 

Those restaurant owners — Art Wille, Lloyd Smith and Dave Wickesberg — were his mentors, Weinrich said.

After earning a degree in marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and working for RCA for a time, Weinrich returned to the restaurant business.

When his uncle called, Weinrich jumped at the chance to create a supper club-type eatery.

“We had quite the niche,” he said. “It was perch, seafood and burgers. And we had a great location.

“This place would get packed — inside, outside, to-go orders. There would be a two-hour wait, and the bar would be packed. We had 670 people in one Friday night. That was our record. We had 200 people at lunch. I had the fire chief tell me once we had to watch our occupancy.”

He considered adding onto the restaurant, but remembered Smith telling him that expanding the dining room at the Fish Shanty was his biggest mistake. It added to the cost of operations, eliminated the line of people who purchased extra drinks and appetizers while waiting and took away some of the cachet.

But adding a patio, where summer concerts were held, to Newport Shores was a great thing, Weinrich said.

“We provided a lot of entertainment here,” he said, estimating they hosted 500 bands through the years. “It was a lot of fun and a lot of work.”

Weinrich attributed the success of Newport Shores to the fact it offered good food at reasonable prices in a prime location with views that can’t be matched.

But the customers were also part of the equation, Weinrich said, noting they made people feel welcome. 

“A lot of it wasn’t us, it was the customers,” he said. “I often said I should pay them.”

Weinrich said he considered Newport Shores to be the night-time Harry’s restaurant, another downtown restaurant razed for development that’s fondly remembered by residents — a place where local residents gathered for a good meal and tourists and visitors enjoyed a good time, too.

“The locals were our bread and butter. The tourists were the icing on the cake,” Weinrich said.

And many of those tourists became regulars, he said, stopping in on their way to Door County or during annual fishing trips.

“We made such good friends with the fishermen,” Weinrich said. “They were a hoot. We had regulars from Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois. We had regulars from other countries who came to town for business, people from Canada, Italy, Croatia.”

Some of those customers, he said, ultimately moved to the city.

“They fell in love with Port,” he said.

Weinrich said Newport Shores was the first restaurant in Wisconsin to go smokeless, something that upset many of his customers. But, he said, he never doubted it was the right thing to do, especially since his mother died of esophageal cancer.

While many people predicted he would lose a substantial amount of business, that didn’t happen, he said. People appreciated the fact they could enjoy a meal without tasting smoke.

Through the years, Newport Shores has been a family business, Weinrich said, noting his dad bartended and built the model boats that were displayed in the restaurant and his mother made all the desserts for years. His sisters and wife also worked there.
He has also had a number of long-term employees, including two — his sister Mindy Weinrich and Vickie Egerer — who have been there from the start.

“There are kids pushing 50 now who worked here,” he said. 

But, Weinrich said, the plan was always to eventually sell the restaurant for development.

“We planned to run it for seven to 10 years, then sell it for development,” he said.

He and Ansay started talking about the possibilities about 20 years ago, Weinrich said. 

“Mike and I see a lot of things in the same way,” he said. 

He’s ready for a change now, Weinrich said. The Covid-19 pandemic “changed everything.”

So while it’s presumed that the closing of the restaurant is a sad time for him, he said it isn’t. That happened in March, when the state shutdown.

The business has changed so dramatically. There’s only one good thing I can think that’s come from Covid — people are outside more and families are doing more together,” he said. “It makes it easier to leave.”


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