A new Italian restaurant has opened in Lake Geneva, but with a style of presentation that has been modified to account for the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cuoco Pazzo Eatz & Drinkz restaurant, 393 N. Edwards Blvd., officially opened for business May 29. The restaurant is located in the former Red Geranium restaurant building, which closed in January after about 35 years in business.
Cuoco Pazzo owner Eric Webber said he is excited that his new Italian restaurant has opened, although he had to alter plans because of the contagious coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Webber initially was going to call the restaurant Cuoco Pazzo Antipasto Bar, which would have featured a self-serve bar with Italian meats, cheeses and other selections that customers could gather themselves.
Webber, however, decided that to switch instead to a dine-in, sit-down option.
“With COVID and everything, we completely had to change the concept,” he said. “Basically the salad bar and self-serve concept isn’t going to happen now.”
Cuoco Pazzo offers several Italian and pasta dishes, including shrimp puttenesca, meatballs and linguine, beef ravioli, portobella lasagna, crab and shrimp manicotti, and Tuscan-style ribeye steak.
Lake Geneva Mayor Charlene Klein is among those voicing excitement that a new restaurant has opened in Lake Geneva and that a new purpose was found for the former Red Geranium site.
“I think it’s great that we have another dining option here,” Klein said. “And I am especially happy that the building is remaining.”
The Red Geranium was a popular spot among both visitors and local residents. Known for its prime rib, grilled salmon and barbecue ribs, the dining room also featured art exhibits, fashion shows and other special attractions.
Customers were disappointed in January when restaurant owner Dotty Swatek decided to close the doors.
Stephanie Klett, president of the VISIT Lake Geneva tourism and business organization, said she was excited about another dining option being offered in the Lake Geneva region.
“Right now, any new business opening is a celebration,” Klett said.
County property records that the building’s former owner, Swatek Sales Corp., sold the restaurant property on March 5 for $1.5 million to a buyer identified as RGLG LLC.
State business records indicate that RGLG LLC registered with the state in February, showing a registered agent in Fort Atkinson.
Webber operates another restaurant in Fort Atkinson.
Webber said Cuoco Pazzo currently has nine employees, and he hopes to add three more.
Several menu items also are offered at his Fort Atkinson restaurant, Magiami Italiano, which has been in business for about eight years.
So far in Lake Geneva, his most popular menu item seems to be pasta rags, which include torn sheets of pasta with braised beef and crumbled gorgonzola cheese, topped with a three-cheese cream sauce.
The new restaurant has drawn a positive response, and Webber said he hopes to soon see repeat customers.
“We want to maintain a great business after the summer, and make sure locals are comfortable eating here,” he said.
The new restaurant includes a bar offering beer and wine. The city approved a Class B liquor license, so Cuoco Pazzo can start offering cocktails, too.
Webber said he was happy to obtain the license, considering that he was in competition with other restaurant owners seeking the license.
“That was a little stressful, but I’m glad that all worked out,” he said.
Cuoco Pazzo has implemented other safety measures to combat the threat of spreading coronavirus. The restaurant is using disposable paper napkins, washable fabric tablecloths, and seating at every other table for social distancing. Employees are required to use hand sanitizer, and tables are cleaned regularly.
“We’re trying to do all the right things,” he said.
The biggest challenge has been finding employees comfortable working in a restaurant during the coronavirus outbreak. Employees and customers are not required to wear face masks inside the establishment.
“I’m feeling anyone who is coming out to dine is coming out to dine,” Webber said. “So, they’re comfortable with being in a public place.”
Webber spent a few months giving the old Red Geranium a bit of remodeling before he opened his doors. He voiced confidence that it is an ideal location for his new restaurant.
“I fell in love with the place the first time I walked through it,” he said. “It’s just a great building.”
Klett said having more restaurants available will attract visitors to the area. Local tourism spending is near one-fourth directed at food and beverage sales.
Plus, she said: “Who doesn’t love Italian food?”
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