Local restaurant Pizza Man reborn from the ashes
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Pizza Man will rise from the ashes in a new location on Milwaukee’s east side nearly three years after a fire ravaged the popular restaurant.
Restaurant owner Mike Amidzich announced he signed a letter of intent on Nov. 15 to lease property at the southwest corner of North Downer Avenue and East Belleview Place, according to a press release.
Last Monday, the Historic Preservation Commission approved the plan to renovate two floors of the property on 2595-2597 N. Downer Ave., which currently houses a dry cleaner and six occupied apartments operating on month-to-month leases. Now, only minor-modification approvals require confirmation from the Plan Commission, zoning department and Common Council.
Less than a mile away from its former location on the northeast corner of E. North and N. Oakland avenues, the new Pizza Man will feature two floors of seating and an outdoor terrace on the second floor, the release said. Architect Matt Rinka of Rinka Chung Architecture will lead the renovation.
“We plan to take a contemporary approach to the design that preserves the rustic, urban charm of the original Pizza Man,” Rinka said in the release. “The outdoor seating is what drew Mike to the location and the design but will also help connect the energy of Pizza Man to the street, bringing vitality to an important corner.”
Pizza Man, which opened in 1970, is known for its extensive assortment of wines and deep dish pizzas. It became a cherished Milwaukee eatery over the next 40 years until January 2010 when a fire destroyed its building, which also accommodated other restaurants and apartments. The fire caused $3 million in damage.
Although generally considered more of a haunt for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students, Marquette students enjoyed grabbing slices there, too. Mike White, a Marquette law student, said he enjoyed Pizza Man mostly for its food and atmosphere.
“There aren’t a ton of sit-down pizza places, so it was nice to have that around,” White said. “I hope the food stays relatively the same. … I hope they don’t try and reinvent the whole place because I really liked the atmosphere, and I’d hate to see them try to change what they are too drastically.”
Amidzich originally said in 2011 that he would not reopen Pizza Man and planned to focus on running his other company, Stinky Gringo Margaritas, with his wife, Deanna. The Business Journal reported Amidzich initially could not get a bank to provide financing, but when an influx of investors and Pizza Man enthusiasts came forward with funding, the plan to resurrect the pizzeria became feasible.
Feras Rahman, former owner of the neighboring Black and White Café, was indicted for arson after the five-alarm fire engulfed his café, Pizza Man, Grecian Delight, Cush Lounge and several apartments.
A federal jury acquitted Rahman of arson in May and convicted him of lying to investigators, but U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa will have the final say on sentencing on March 11th, according to federal court documents.
Prosecutors alleged circumstantial evidence indicated Rahman or an accomplice started a gasoline fire in his restaurant after relatives, who invested in his south side car dealership, pressured him to dump the café.
Rahman will face the maximum five years if found guilty of arson.