Mia Famiglia bringing Sicilian cooking to downtown Waukesha

C.T. Kruger
Mia Famiglia, a longtime Italian restaurant at 10049 W. Forest Home Ave. in Hales Corners, recently closed, but the owners are taking their recipes and dishes to downtown Waukesha. They plan to open their new restaurant in March.
Published on: 1/26/2015

Rebecca Ayala says Mia Famiglia has become a popular Italian restaurant over the years for a few reasons: its restaurant makes all of its food from scratch, uses homegrown products, and tries to cater to everyone, including those who want to eat gluten-free.

Now, people in Waukesha, especially those who frequent downtown regularly, will get to experience the restaurant that has made a name for itself in Hales Corners for more than 13 years.

Mia Famiglia, formerly at 10049 W. Forest Home Ave., will take over the space that most recently occupied by Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub at 225 South St., across from The Rotunda in downtown Waukesha.

The new restaurant is expected to open in March. Ayala said her team has already started the transition of remodeling the former pub, which also served as the home to J. Lotti's and other bar/restaurant businesses in recent years. The remodel will mostly include redecorating the dining room.

"The downtown community seemed to fit us well," said Ayala, who is the front-of-the-house manager. "Right away, we knew that this was the place for us."

Healthy options

While the name of the Hales Corners restaurant might not transfer to the new site (Ayala said a name is still up in the air), Tomas White Jr., the head chef and Ayala's cousin, wants to bring many of the major components from the old location to Waukesha.

This starts with continuing its gluten-free menu, which includes pizzas, pastas, paninis, entrées and homemade desserts. Even the restaurant's famous "Mama's Balsamic Dressing" — a family recipe from Sicily — has been tweaked over the years to be "more health conscious," Ayala said.

"We have recently, in the last four years, gotten big in the gluten-free community," Ayala said.

Ayala said White, a Catholic Memorial and Waukesha County Technical College graduate who did his apprenticeship in Sicily, also plans on continuing to operate a garden — a staple at its old location — on top of the flat-roof building or by purchasing some nearby land.

"Tomas is a big advocate of fresh and local products," Ayala said. "So he uses as many local products or homegrown products in his scratch dishes."

Product driven

A main reason for the change in location, Ayala said, was due to its growing business outside the dining room.

"Our store and market business has expanded," Ayala said. "We needed more space for production in the kitchen for our products in the farmers markets and stores."

Mia Famiglia's salad dressings and other products, including pastas, cheeses, cannolis and regular and gluten-free tiramisu, are in multiple stores around the area, including Outpost Natural Foods and Gloriosos Italian Market in Milwaukee and Grasch Foods in Brookfield.

The business also sells products in seven farmers markets as well as three winter farmers markets. Ayala said the business will likely add the Waukesha's farmers market to its list.

Adding hours

One difference in the new restaurant will be in its hours of operation.

At its old location, the restaurant just offered dinner hours Tuesdays through Saturdays. But Ayala said the restaurant will add lunch hours Fridays and Saturdays, with plans to add a brunch on Sundays. (The restaurant will be closed on Mondays.)

"We have a solid dinner business, and we want to expand on that," Ayala said. "We want to pull in a wide range of people from the office clientele to college students."

Ayala said the restaurant will also expand its bar service and add gourmet burgers to the menu and include more small-plate options.

Ayala said there already is an interested buyer for the Hales Corners building, which she said her family owns. However, the transaction not yet finalized, so she did not want to identify the buyer.

"We will greatly miss our neighbors in Hales Corners, who have very much, become part of our extended family," said Ayala, adding that the restaurant is a family-run business that involves much of White Jr.'s immediate and extended family. "We hope they will join us at our new home in Waukesha."

Pub moves on

While Ayala and her team look to find success in downtown Waukesha, employees at Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub are moving on.

Jackson's was only at its Waukesha location for a little more than a year. It opened in fall 2013, but less than a year later, problems began surfacing. It closed for several weeks last August due to staffing issues. The pub then reopened with almost 90 percent new staff.

Dominic Hoeffler, the pub's general manager, said staff was not the reason for the closure this time. Hoeffler, however, said he could not discuss reasons behind the latest closure.

"We're not allowed to say," Hoeffler said.

Hoeffler said some of the employees from the Waukesha location have been reassigned to its Milwaukee (1203 N. 10th St.) and Wauwatosa (11302 W. Bluemound Road) sites.