Work has commenced on BelAir Cantina, and its owners are still hoping for an opening as early as May despite a little delay in getting started.
The new restaurant at 68th and North will be a major overhaul of the former auto garage building, most recently occupied by an Aqua Terra tropical fish store.
Much of the initial work is demolition, said co-owner Scott Johnson of Mojofuco Restaurants, which also owns a Water Street BelAir Cantina in Milwaukee and cafes in Riverwest, Bay View and on Milwaukee's East Side.
"It started last week," Johnson said, "and it's starting in earnest this week. We're going gangbusters and hoping for May (to open). We definitely want to be open for that bike race."
The last day's race in the Tour of America's Dairyland criterium series is scheduled for June 30 on North Avenue. It will be the first time the 11-day tour has come to Wauwatosa and is expected to draw hosts of visitors to the area.
Johnson said that final permitting and approval of a few design changes for the restaurant took a little longer than expected — "Regular old bureaucracy," he said — but the work of turning the building into a Cali-Mex cantina will go ahead at full steam.
"The contractors are amped to go," Johnson said. "They've got the heat on, they're busting through walls for the HVAC. Next week, they'll be busting up the floor. So far it's all demo work — nothing cool to see yet."
Mojofuco was awarded $150,000 in Community Deveopment Block Grant funds in July to fill in its financing for the project. Johnson said that at least 25 jobs including management positions would be created. There will probably more because that estimate was based on staffing at the existing BelAir, and the seating area for the Tosa cantina will be half again as large, he said.
Besides being the first Mexican restaurant on North Avenue other than Taco Bell, BelAir will bring the first large outdoor seating area to the central East Tosa district. Plans call for some 80 summertime seats in a partially enclosed patio.
BelAir also inspired another restaurant redevelopment just doors to the east. In November, Martin Beadoin, owner of the Red Dot, 2498 N. Bartlett Ave. on Milwaukee's east side, announced he was buying the former Shepherd's Sports Bar at 6715 W. North Ave. and would call his new business Sherbrook.
At the time, Beadoin said, ""It'll be an extensive restoration – similar to what the BelAir Cantina is going to do."