Food Fight Restaurant Group plans to open an Italian restaurant in the former Chocolaterian Cafe space on Atwood Avenue, across the street from where it operates Tex Tubb's Taco Palace.
Caitlin Suemnicht, Food Fight's chief creative officer, said the group recently started construction and hope to open by May.
"We're bringing Italian back to the neighborhood," she said, adding that when the space went up for lease the group immediately knew a casual Italian place was right for the street.
Suemnicht said Food Fight has some ideas for a name, but haven't decided yet. They want to be careful in "making sure the name has a story."
Food Fight's second restaurant was the upscale Pasta Per Tutti. It operated from 1993 to 2003 where Tex Tubb's is now. The company's first restaurant was Monty's Blue Plate Diner, also on Atwood.
With the new venture, Food Fight will run 20 area restaurants.
In 2014, Food Fight opened Cento, a fine dining Italian restaurant near the Overture Center Downtown.
A fire last February in the 1920s-era Schenk-Huegel Building caused by faulty electrical equipment in the basement, resulted in $750,000 in damage, and forced out Chocolaterian and Vault Interiors & Design. Businesses on the second floor were also affected.
Leanne Cordisco, who owns Chocolaterian Cafe in Middleton and opened the original Atwood location of the European-style patisserie in 2012, said it was too costly to rebuild.
The Schenk-Huegel Building is where Food Fight had its original offices until 2015, when it moved to a location on Monona Drive.
Food Fight is partnering with Giovanni Novella, executive chef at the Food Fight restaurant Fresco. Novella is from southern Italy near Naples and always wanted to open his own place. He'll be among the ownership group.
Novella, who has also worked at Cento, has been with Food Fight for three years. Suemnicht said Novella met his wife, who's from Madison, in San Diego.
Suemnicht also pointed to the Italian heritage of Food Fight co-founder Monty Schiro.
She said the company is excited to join exciting nearby restaurants like Nook and Mint Mark. She said she has a lot of friends with families in the neighborhood, adding that the moderately-priced restaurant will be "casual but stylish."
The decor for the restaurant will draw inspiration from Italy as well as from the rich design history of the Schenk-Huegel Building, which Suemnicht said has beautiful original brick and concrete inside.
The restaurant will seat 85 to 90 and since many restaurants in the neighborhood are small and don't take reservations, the new place will, she said.
It will offer dinner six nights a week and will be open during the day on Saturday and Sunday. Weekday lunches may come at a later date.
Suemnicht said Food Fight isn't ready to give out details of the menu, but wants to get across that they're excited for a third restaurant in the neighborhood.
"Atwood has been good to us. It's our favorite street," she said. "We're bringing back Italian to our home turf."