MEQUON — Ferrante’s Restaurant has been synonymous with Mequon dining for 45 years, and owner Amy Ferrante-Gollwitzer is grateful to have experienced every single day of it.
The longtime Italian eatery is commemorating its anniversary throughout the month of November with various specials. By Ferrante-Gollwitzer’s loose math, she estimates more than 1 million hungry customers have come through the restaurant since its grand opening on Nov. 5, 1977.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for any small business, especially a restaurant,” Ferrante-Gollwitzer said. “I just want to say thank you to all of the loyal customers and the terrific staff who have supported us.”
Ferrante-Gollwitzer’s grandparents, Rosalie and Alex Ferrante, opened their first iteration of the restaurant in Milwaukee in 1938. A pizza parlor was created in Whitefish Bay in the 1950s, which was later sold in the ‘60s to aid in opening Ferrante’s Supper Club in Germantown.
The Supper Club closed in the ‘70s, and soon after Amy’s mother, Lisa, and Amy’s uncle, Bob, launched the Ferrante’s everyone knows today.
Ferrante-Gollwitzer was given the keys to the restaurant at just 18 years old after her mother took a trip abroad and entrusted the operations to her. Initially on the staff as a waitress, she had to quickly learn what it meant to be a leader, starting with the finances.
“I was waitressing and making great money, and (my mother) wanted to leave and do this tour, so she put me on salary, and I actually lost money doing that,” Ferrante- Gollwitzer said. “I didn’t negotiate that correctly for myself. I had to take over everything and I had no money left.”
With time, Ferrante-Gollwitzer found her rhythm. Establishing a productive and respectful culture remained a top priority, and it has held true today.
Ferrante’s workforce of roughly 25 employees are seen as an extension of the family. In fact, Ferrante-Gollwitzer’s three children are all currently working part time at the restaurant in various capacities, a moment the owner was waiting a long time to see come to fruition.
“It’s funny that it took 45 years to get to that point,” she said.
A major contributor to Ferrante’s success has been its faithful customer base. Ferrante-Gollwitzer still welcomes diners in their 50s and 60s who she remembers visited the restaurant in their teenage years, and this time they are bringing along their own children and grandchildren.
“There are so many customers who are like family to us,” Ferrante-Gollwitzer said. “The real reward is all the happy faces and a meal well served. Or, if at the end of the meal, as someone is leaving they say, ‘Thank you, your food was delicious tonight and your staff did an amazing job.’ For every challenge there are far more successes. Everyone puts their heart and soul into their job.”
Ferrante-Gollwitzer developed Ferrante’s catering business more than 20 years ago. She has needed to scale it down recently due to staffing and other logistical considerations, but it remains an important pillar to the restaurant’s overall success.
People wonder what Ferrante-Gollwitzer’s favorite item is on her menu. The answer does not require much thought: it has always been the homemade meatballs. Its recipe, created by Alex Ferrante more than 80 years ago, is still being used.
Ferrante-Gollwitzer remarked that one of the most popular newer dishes available is “5 Italians in a Boat,” composed of five homemade meatballs smothered in marinara sauce (or “suco,” as it is known in her kitchen) and topped with parmesan cheese and served with Tuscan bread.
“They usually get made on Thursdays, and when they come out of the oven there is really nothing more delicious than a hot Ferrante meatball,” she said.
Three remodels, two additions and 1 million diners later, Ferrante’s is as relevant today as it was in 1977, and shows no signs of the contrary in the future.
“I hope Ferrante’s stays Ferrante’s for a very long time,” Ferrante-Gollwitzer said. “Mequon is a wonderful place to live, and part of the reason why is because we have these long-standing small businesses like Ferrante’s. It’s a privilege to do business here and serve this community.”
Ferrante’s is located at 10404 N. Port Washington Road. For more information, go to https://ferrantes.com or call 262-241-5420.