Well-traveled owner excited by buzz business has stirred before opening
Mike Tsuchihashi only had to go as far as the nearest computer to get an inkling of how anxious people are for the opening of his new Grafton restaurant, Atlas BBQ.
“It was taking a bit of a chance to set up a Facebook page before the restaurant opened, so I begged family members and friends to ‘like’ us,” Tsuchihashi said.
With little more than a week before the restaurant opens in the former Paramount Grille & Bakehouse, 1304 12th Ave., Tsuchihashi said the digital community is already buzzing.
The eatery has 525 Facebook “likes.”
A grand opening is planned for Monday, Nov. 26, although Tsuchihashi said he intends to follow a slow, deliberate approach in developing the restaurant — much like the directions for making a delectable barbecue.
“We want to make sure whatever we do, we do it right,” he said.
That means lunch and carry-out service will be added gradually, but dinner will be the first offering.
Tsuchihashi has long dreamt about owning his own restaurant, leaving a job as food and beverage manager at Potawatami Bingo and Casino in Milwaukee to pursue that quest.
“I was manager at the casino for 11 years. After seeing it through a $120 million expansion in 2000 and then a $240 million expansion in 2008, I had pretty much done all I could there,” he said.
Tsuchihashi left Potawatami in February of 2011 and began to formalize plans for his own restaurant.
His diverse background and lifelong interest in food dovetailed nicely into planning for the business.
Tsuchihashi was born in New York, spent much of his childhood in the Netherlands and returned to the States to live in Texas, where he completed high school.
He then studied culinary science at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. Tsuchihashi spent six years working at exclusive clubs in Japan and several years after that managing food-service businesses in the Chicago area.
His wife Martha, a Milwaukee area native, lured him to the Midwest and the Potawatami position.
“I knew all along owning my own restaurant is something I wanted to do,” Tsuchihashi said.
He even knew what kind of fare he wanted to feature — “the three B’s” — beer, bourbon and barbecue.
Fate brought him to Grafton.
“I wanted a building with some character and that could easily be converted into the kind of restaurant I wanted without having to start from scratch,” Tsuchihashi said.
The Paramount building proved to be a perfect fit.
“Built in 1845, it is the oldest commercial building in Ozaukee County, and has a great feeling to it,” he said.
Tsuchihashi didn’t shy away from noting the more recent history of the building, which includes two failed restaurants.
“You are talking about two high-end restaurants that were trying to make a go of it just as the recession hit,” he said.
Tsuchihashi said his focus will be on providing value and quality.
“When people think about going out to eat, they want food they can’t make at home. Most people don’t want to spend 14 hours preparing a perfect barbecue,” he said.
Working with executive chef Michael Strand, Tsuchihashi said, the restaurant will feature homemade rubs and sauces that will make the dining experience memorable.
He said the name Atlas BBQ was chosen because he doesn’t want the menu to be pigeonholed into one style of barbecue.
The names of the signature sauces reflect the different points of the compass, with each offering a different regional flavor and kick. A tray of the sauces will sit on every table, along with a bottle of extra spicy srirachi “Red Rooster” sauce.
The interior of the restaurant has undergone a major renovation, replacing the formal setting with a much more casual atmosphere.
There is seating for 30 around the relocated bar, tables and booth for 100 in the dining area and a private dining room that can handle about 30 guests.
The updated kitchen in dominated by a pair of stainless steel Old Hickory smokers, affectionately named Jake and Elwood in homage to “The Blues Brothers.”
The smokers are fueled by apple wood, and are vented by smoke stacks that stand 18 feet above the roof.
“When we do test smoking, if the winds are right, people all over the village can smell our food,” Tsuchihashi said.
The menu is highlighted by St. Louis and baby back ribs, pulled pork and chicken, beef brisket and a variety of combo plates. Fish fries will be available on Fridays. Sandwiches, soups and salads will also be offered, along with a vegetarian-friendly black bean burger, shrimp and salmon.
Homemade desserts will include key lime, chocolate silk, banana cream and chocolate chunk pecan pies, along with apple cobbler and Door County cherry cheesecake.
Tsuchihashi said the bar will be stocked with 10 tap beers, 28 types of bottled beer and 15 varieties of bourbon.
A selection of wines will also be available, with Tsuchihashi again stressing the emphasis being on value rather than high-end labels.
He said the restaurant will have a staff of about 30, most from the Grafton area.
Image Information: ATLAS BBQ WILL open later this month at Paramount Plaza, the bustling heart of downtown Grafton. Lower photo, owner Mike Tsuchihashi and executive chef Mike Strand bring a love of simple food done well to the new business. Photos by Mark Jaeger