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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Vitality at VIA Downer

Husband and wife team up at East Side Italian restaurant

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The past six months have brought some significant changes at VIA Downer (2625 N. Downer Ave.). This casual Italian eatery, located in the old Coffee Trader building, has been around for about four years. In August 2013, Keia Rodriguez took over as general manager. Not too long after that, a chef change at VIA led to Jay Rodriguez (Keia’s husband) and Mike Felipe being hired as co-chefs. This arrangement has been healthy for VIA and brought some new life to the restaurant.

It can be a challenge to work with someone you also spend your personal time with, but Keia feels it’s a good fit. “We already had a great system for communication in place, so it translated well to our work relationship. It makes for a really positive work environment,” she says.

This is not the first time the Rodriguezes have worked together. The couple met when she was working for the Pfister hotel and he worked in the kitchen at the Mason Street Grill. “People always say if you work in hospitality you’ll have crazy hours. That’s kind of true, so it’s actually good that both of us have that schedule,” she explains.

Keeping work and personal life separate has been pretty easy for the pair as they set ground rules right away. “There are times when we aren’t allowed to talk to each other about certain topics,” she says.

Since they’ve started at VIA, the Rodriguezes, along with Felipe, have made some changes to the menu. A new seasonal menu is expected to roll out in May and will reflect the influences of the two chefs. Jay Rodriguez likes to forage for wild foods and had experience at a Michelin Star restaurant in Spain during his culinary training. Felipe has more of a classical background, and prepares beautiful traditional cuisine. They’ve also worked to expand VIA’s specialty cocktail and wine list with many European and South American selections.

VIA has also been hosting events for local “foodie” groups and teaming up with organizations like Visit Milwaukee to get the word to out-of-towners about VIA’s extensive gluten-free options.

The Rodriguez couple will be taking a trip to Italy for two weeks in June, and expect to find even more inspiration for the VIA menu. “We’ll be traveling around trying lots of great food and visiting lots of wineries,” Keia says. They will be posting their finds and sharing experiences on VIA’s Facebook page to involve followers of the restaurant.

For more information visit viadowner.com.