Starting over is never easy.
But sometimes, you don’t have a choice.
That’s a lesson Anne Marie Arroyo and her wife, Tamela Greene, learned the hard way, after their jobs were eliminated at Harley Davidson in 2015. But fortunately, their experience has led to a fantastic new restaurant on Silver Spring Drive in Whitefish Bay: Moxie. The name isn’t just catchy; it holds a deeper meaning for Arroyo and Greene.
“It’s something our Grandma always used to say,” Arroyo explains. “Like, ‘kid, you’ve got moxie.’ It takes some rebellious spirit and a little of having no fear to open a restaurant.”
As I quickly learn from Arroyo and Moxie’s executive chef, Tony Evans, it takes more than just a rebellious spirit to open a restaurant. It takes a keen understanding of what the community wants and needs. That’s why the team at Moxie has carefully curated a menu that reflects their neighborhood.
“We had to spend our life savings to open this restaurant,” Arroyo says. “We wanted to make sure that what we opened would be something that the community could really support.”
So, Arroyo, Green and Evans sent out a survey to their friends within the North Shore. They began with a list of 30 people who then forwarded the survey to their own friends. In the end, the team received around 300 responses about what people were looking for in a neighborhood restaurant. From there, Evans got to work, developing a menu that reflected the results. The restaurant opened its doors in December 2016.
“We really wanted to give the community what they wanted,” Evans says. “For the sake of building the restaurant, it doesn’t matter what I like. It’s what the guests like. We wanted to take all of those influences and suggestions and make this a neighborhood place. We don’t want it to be a destination place. We want to see all of our guests a couple times a week, and that’s been happening.”
Evans, who has been a part of the Milwaukee food scene since the 1980s, calls Moxie a “magnet,” drawing in friends and former coworkers from every restaurant he’s worked at in the area. Arroyo agrees, calling it a reunion with a purpose.
“From a corporate standpoint, these days, there are reductions of force happening every day across the country,” Arroyo says. “I think it’s important that people can see: here are two people that were in corporate for a long time, and they really reinvented themselves. It’s possible to do something different.”
Arroyo acknowledges many forces were at play in helping her and Greene realize their dreams of owning a business. She says the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation helped fund their project, making it possible for them to open Moxie.
The restaurant has also worked with Michael Stodola, whose ad agency they had previously worked with while they were at Harley. Arroyo says when he learned their jobs had been eliminated, he offered to help them launch their own business pro bono. From a physical standpoint, Stodola has left his mark through artwork hanging prominently on the back wall of the restaurant. From a visceral standpoint, Arroyo credits Stodola with guiding the women toward the restaurant’s name, through branding exercises to help them realize who they wanted to be.
Arroyo says resources are all around, and now, it’s their turn to serve as one, not only for those whose jobs have been eliminated, but also for members of the LGBT community.
“We’re members of the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and we were just recently certified on the national level for the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which is a really big deal,” Arroyo says. “So now, we can be leaders in that community as well, in terms of showing that you can be out, you can be a part of the community, contribute to the community and not be afraid to put yourself out there and show what talent and skills you have.”
Moxie celebrates its first anniversary in December. It’s open 11am – 10pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11am – 11pm Friday-Saturday, 9am – 2pm Sunday and closed on Monday. Moxie is located at 501 East Silver Spring Drive in Whitefish Bay and accepts reservations by phone or online.