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A BBQ pork sandwich photographed at the Nitty Gritty in Sun Prairie in 2014.

After 15 years in Middleton, the Nitty Gritty is increasing its bar area by expanding into what used to be Tom's Red Pepper.

There have been some construction delays, but the new bar area should be open by late October, said co-owner Eric Suemnicht.

The Nitty Gritty, 1021 N. Gammon Road, the second of three area birthday-themed restaurants and bars, took over the space vacated by Tom's Red Pepper, a Chinese restaurant which closed in April after 10 years.

"We weren't in a terrible hurry during the summer," Suemnicht said. "We just kind of took our time to make sure we were doing it all right."

A three-story wall between the two businesses came down for the project. The addition will add about 75 seats, mostly bar space.

The new bar area will include booths, a large banquette and new tables. They're also adding nine televisions.

As it was, the Middleton Nitty Gritty's bar area only had five tables and seating for about 20 people.

"We are bringing it very much in line with the other two locations," Suemnicht said. "It's kind of a miracle that we've gotten as much business out of that bar room as we have over the last 15 years."

The addition will hopefully allow the owners to use other areas of the restaurant, like the upstairs or back dining room, to host private events.

"So many people ask for groups of 40 or 60 or 100 if they want to do business events or big birthday parties and everything in between," Suemnicht said. "We've been kind of limited with the space there. We've been maxing that space out since we've opened."

Suemnicht doesn't own the building, which is in the Stonefield Glen Shopping Center. Suemnicht and his partner, Lee Pier, own all three Nitty Gritty locations together -- Madison, Middleton and Sun Prairie -- but have a third partner in Middleton, Jason Riewe.

The Nitty Gritty became the fifth restaurant in the location in seven years when Suemnicht and Pier took it over from Doolittle's Pub and Eatery in 2002. The space was first home to a restaurant called Stonefield's Neighborhood Grill.

The owners of Tom's Red Pepper encouraged their customers to check the restaurant's website about their future plans, but it's still unknown whether the restaurant will resurface someplace else.

Meanwhile, the Nitty Gritty is celebrating its 49th birthday on Oct. 3, offering free birthday cake, $4.90 Gritty burgers and $1.49 Miller High Life all day. 

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.