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Pizza Man Rises From The Ashes

Marti Mikkelson

The Pizza Man restaurant was an east side institution for decades, until a fire destroyed it in early 2010.

Its loyal patrons were devastated, not knowing if they’d ever again taste its pizza and wine. Its owners eventually decided to reopen, but at a different location, less than a mile away.

The staff goal – is to reopen Pizza Man in a couple weeks, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Workers are sawing boards outside. Heather Korte is watching for a delivery. She’s general manager.

“Our phenomenal wine collection is coming in. It’s a matter of hours before we actually get to put it up on the shelves,” Korte says.

Pizza Man’s new home will be on the corner of Downer and Belleview. One big difference from the old spot - the new digs will feature a huge second story deck.

However, Korte says what the owners want to be the same, are the food and beverages – as well as the service. So, staffers have been practicing. For a few hours each night, they’ve opened the restaurant to friends and family.

"It gives the kitchen a chance to test out all their recipes, gives our staff a chance to learn how to use the computers, find where everything is, just kind of play restaurant before you are pummeled by the public,” Korte says.

Korte expects hundreds of customers to pour into the new eatery, and many to compare it with the old.

Ian Powell says he knows people will scrutinize his baking. He’s the crust maker. Powell says he used to roll dough at another restaurant, but frequently ate at the old Pizza Man.

“I was personally introduced to Mike the owner. He personally trained me because for him the crust is really important. And for him bringing back the original crust and making sure that all the people that remember the old Pizza Man have that similar experience, that fondness for the crust,” Powell says.

Powell says he grew up on Milwaukee’s east side and was devastated when the four-alarm fire leveled the restaurant in January of 2010.

Ald. Nik Kovac says the blaze was one for the history books.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
Workers gape at the charred remains of the old Pizza Man on North Avenue in January of 2010

“We’re very lucky nobody died, the firefighters luckily saved the church next door. After you deal with those immediate safety issues you start thinking A, what’s going to happen to Pizza Man the restaurant and B, what’s going to happen to this other great corner, Oakland and North?” Kovac asks.

Kovac says he’s pleased those questions have now been answered.

As for question B, the corner of Oakland and North where the old restaurant stood – a developer will rebuild a similar restaurant there, along with retail and housing.

As for question A, the iconic Pizza Man will incorporate a few old features into the new – in addition to its recipes. For instance, small booths made of barn wood and replicas of the bright yellow Pizza Man signs.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.