by Ellen C. Warren
Nineteen years earlier, she had lost her job and found her way into a bartending gig at the newly established Nessun Dorma, where she learned all about whiskey, the mixing of a cocktail, and the front of the house.
In the meantime, she had married her husband, had kids, was in the second of two insurance industry jobs which she liked but didn’t love, and through it all, she kept working some hours at the restaurant, for fun.
“I felt the clock ticking. I really had to sit and wonder…what do I want to be doing with my life? And what did I do in the past that I really, really enjoyed? And this place came up! I was still working shifts here. And then I was sitting at Cempazuchi with a friend of mine, and I actually sent Dean (Cannestra, the previous owner) a text message that just asked him “Will you sell me Nessun Dorma?” He replied within minutes and said ‘Yes’!”
This is the quick version of how, in 2018, Emily Sutrick came to be the owner of the renowned Riverwest establishment at the corner of Weil and Hadley Streets, Nessun Dorma.
Her roots were in Hartland, where she lived her first seventeen years followed by several years of in and out of Madison, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Madison…you get the picture. Her schools included UW Madison and UW Milwaukee, but her pull was more toward party than study. Later she would attend MATC heading toward a nursing degree. Her husband-to-be was a nursing student as well. Pregnancy got in the way of schooling for her, but to this day she’s married to a nurse.
The story of how she met her husband is a piece of Riverwest lore. Take yourself back to 2005. As Emily tells it, “I was walking down my street one day, with a guy that I was dating at the time. We were going to go play kickball. (Anybody remember the kickball teams of the early 2000’s?) He wanted to invite one of his friends who was at Onopa… So we met him. I had a big, 200lb. English Mastiff at the time…we were walking down the sidewalk and somebody opened a door and then slammed it. It spooked my dog and when he turned, I turned (and stepped/fell off the curb), and ended up dislocating my hip. The guy we had just met, who I didn’t know, took my dog back to my house.
“ Long story short, he (Onopa’s brewer, Jacob) kept checking on me to make sure I was okay. And through that I met his brother, Derrick, who is now my husband. So if I hadn’t dislocated my hip I would not know my husband. Even though it is the most painful thing that ever happened to me…it was a special moment.”
Derrick and Emily have two kids, the one who was christened “the Riverwest Baby,” Simon, now 15, and daughter Lottie, 11. One of Emily’s two sisters, as well as her mother have followed her to Riverwest.
Emily’s past, present and future all revolve around Riverwest and the restaurant she loves, along with her family and the family of staff she keeps busy.
To continue the story, after Emily got the go ahead to purchase the business she was faced with learning how to make that happen as well as coming up with the money. Dean was patient throughout the process and helped her with a loan. As she struggled to find more, her friends suggested she do a Go Fund Me. “’I’m not going to ask people for money.’ I told them.” Emily explains, “You can ask anybody around here, I’m not very good at asking for help, especially monetarily.
“Finally, one of my good friends said to me, ‘If something happened and I was in your position, trying to do something that I’ve been dreaming about doing, and I started a Go Fund Me, would you give me money?’ And I said, ‘Well of course I would.’ So she said, ‘Okay,then just do it. Either people will or they won’t.’”
The result was an overwhelming success. “Once I purchased the place I threw a party and all the people who gave me money were here, and Dean…and I just cried the whole time,” she says with a remembering laugh.
Lasting through the Covid times was tough. Emily had to give up most of her beloved staff which was like losing family. She managed to retain her excellent Chef Kassie Wolf, who is a long-time veteran with the restaurant. Now, on the other side, her difficulty in finding new staff brought about an unexpected change. She has some teenagers in her kitchen. Including her son, there are four young people learning busing, dish washing and line cooking. And it’s going well.
As you’d expect, the hours of operation have gone through changes during these times. Although, according to its name “No one shall sleep!” on Mondays Nessun Dorma will, indeed, sleep.
Otherwise, they will offer their standard menu plus daily special and two home made soups Tuesday through Saturday from 5pm to 10pm and Sunday 5 to 9. “Those hours will change as I start getting more staffed up..we’ll go back to our old ways of keeping the kitchen open late and staying open till bar time.” Right now the bar is open while the kitchen is, but the bartender has choice over when to close the bar.
Brunch, with a weekly special waffle offering, goes from 10:00am to 2:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Emily would like her neighbors to know that they are welcome to start their weekend mornings with a to go cup of the exceptional coffee they offer from local coffee roaster, Valentine Coffee Co. I haven’t tasted a better cup of coffee in Riverwest!