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New Sushi, Seafood Place Is Next Wave for North Ave.

Fish Cheeks will double the size of an East Tosa building and replace hair and nail salon with innovative seafood offerings.

Fish Cheeks will expand an older building at 6818 North Avenue and give it a modern look.
Fish Cheeks will expand an older building at 6818 North Avenue and give it a modern look.
A new restaurant coming to North Avenue in East Tosa will more than double the size of an existing building and completely overhaul and modernize what's already there.

Fish Cheeks, a sushi and seafood establishment, will make over what is now London's Healthy Hair & Nails at 6818 W. North Ave., next door to Rocket Baby Bakery.

The bones of the small commercial building will remain, but it will be built out on the east and north to roughly the same width and depth as Rocket Baby, filling in the lot.

"We're taking over the driveway and some space in back," said John Kesselman, commercial broker for the project. "We'll keep the basement and two of the walls, but everything else is new, a full makeover. The roof's coming up higher, and we're trying to bring it into keeping with the other new construction that's been taking place around it, like the bakery."

Kesselman said the timeline calls for construction to begin on Oct. 1 and to take from four to six months.

Kesselman said restaurateur John Steiner will be creating a boutique-style seafood place, with a Japanese chef who will feature some unusual dishes as well as both authentic and eclectic sushi.

"We're gearing to a Pacific style," Steiner said. "It's not a Japanese restaurant, so to say. There will be some very unique sushi, not what every other sushi bar has.

"We will have traditional Japanese dishes though, too, noodle dishes. Also some very high-end saki and martinis, designed for people who want high quality."

Steiner has several lounges and tried this restaurant concept once before, but he says it was in the wrong place.

"I had Hotaru in Okauchee Lake," Steiner said. "It didn't work! They only came in on Friday! It turned out it was a tough market out there."

East Tosa, Steiner said, is "an upcoming area, and this is right up their alley. People who love sushi, they need their fix, and there's nothing else around there."

Steiner grew up just to the east of East Tosa in Milwaukee's Hi-Mount neighborhood.

"It's kind of ironic that I'm coming back," he said, "but it looks like everybody is."

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Locals are thrilled at the redevelopment. 

“This is very exciting news, and is further evidence that by fostering an environment that is supportive of small businesses, East Tosa is driving a revitalization that is unparalleled in metro Milwaukee,” said Ald. Joel Tilleson of Tosa's 5th District, where Fish Cheeks will reside.

Fish cheeks, for the uninitiated, are medallions of meat from the head of a fish, the dish made from them, and the title of an essay by Amy Tan.

Once thrown away by the fishing industry, made into soup with the rest of the head, or eaten only by the poor (sometimes the fisherman's own family), fish cheeks have been discovered by the culinary world as the tastiest and sweetest piece in the piscine world.

"My brother's wife is Japanese," said Ald. Bobby Pantuso, also of the 5th District, "and it was through them that I was first introduced to sushi. So, I have to say, Watashi wa matsu koto ga dekinai, which is, 'I can't wait!'

"This will be an excellent addition to East Tosa, which is rapidly becoming one of the top urban retail and dining destinations in metro Milwaukee."

The recent splurge of new and refurbished businesses, mostly restaurants but also moves and expansions such as Tosa Yoga, come in the wake of the adoption of the North Avenue Plan in 2011.

A consultant's study that led to the development of the plan found that $20 million a year in dining and entertainment dollars was leaving the 1st and 5th districts of Wauwatosa for lack of places to spend it.

That trend is reversing fast, Tilleson said, with discretionary income being spent at home and new money flowing in from outside.

"In the past, this stretch of North Avenue was a commuter route with little investment from outside the immediate neighborhood," Tilleson said. "Over the past two years, we've had several businesses not only locate to East Tosa, but also spend significant money rebuilding their spaces with new construction.

"As a result of this reinvestment and improvement, consumer dollars are staying in the district and everyone – from the existing businesses looking to expand their consumer base to homeowners looking to raise their property values – is benefitting from it.”
LH July 29, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Excited about the restaurant! Fish Cheeks is actually an essay by Amy Tan, not a novel.
Jim Price July 29, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Whoops, thanks, LH. I got in a hurry and trusted the internet. We're not supposed to do that. Corrected, with apologies and thanks.
Mark Macdonald July 30, 2013 at 12:08 AM
Any idea when they plan to open?
Jim Price July 30, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Mark Macdonald, "Kesselman said the timeline calls for construction to begin on Oct. 1 and to take from four to six months." Best I can say...
jbw July 30, 2013 at 01:09 AM
That is indeed a challenging business. Sushi pretty much demands very fresh fish that is difficult and expensive to buy and transport here. Then you need to have plenty of people buying it every day while it's still fresh. Some people are willing to pay several times wholesale for high-end drinks, so if you attract enough drinkers you might be able to cover the seafood costs.
John T. Pokrandt July 30, 2013 at 09:23 AM
My wife and I are pretty excited, we've been saying for a while that the only thing missing in Tosa is good sushi. Here's hoping that the bar is stocked with some of the better brands of sho-chu.
BuckT July 30, 2013 at 10:07 AM
I am all for this!! As a resident of East Tosa for the past 7 years I feel like my family and I moved in at a great time! My concern, parking! I know the plan is that many of the customer should/could be local, but I want others to come here and see the great neighborhood and all it has to offer. Isn't that lot behind the gas station supposed to be a parking lot soon? Again, very excited for this new addition though and will check it out!
greensheet July 30, 2013 at 10:39 AM
You people are all on your own with the parking situation. I have heard that 3 or 4 MORE restaurants want to open in the area. The city of Wauwatosa is no longer interested in parking capacity, as it was 15 years ago. If we truly had a city that wanted to prosper, they would be setting aside money to start buying properties and producing municipal parking lots.
Linda Nikcevich July 30, 2013 at 01:59 PM
This is amazing - this is the tipping point for North Avenue. Kudos to the East Tosa Alliance. Such amazing work to create such a vital business district. Business Journal did survey and East Tosa was second and one point behind The first place Third Ward at 27%. To the parking concerns - I prefer a parking problem to blighted empty buildings. There is a great North Avenue plan that the city adopted and budgeted $500,000 for (someone correct me if I am wrong on the numbers) that is suppose to be adding quite a bit of parking, promoting biking and more walking in the area. Call you alders and ask when we are going to see the North Avenue plan come to life.

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