Pasquale’s International Cafe has been a fixture in downtown De Pere for almost a quarter of a century, long enough for an entire generation of food lovers to grow up with the restaurant. Owner Dennis Bricco shared what it’s like to run an eating establishment older than some of our readers.
I:So how long has Pasquale’s been at it’s current location? I know it’s been a mainstay in De Pere for as long as I can remember.
Dennis: Pasquale’s has been here for about 24 years. … I’m only here on Mondays [these days] so [you chose] a good time to call. I’m kind of getting semi-retired. I just turned 64 and all that kind of good stuff.
Dennis: Yep, and the original owner, Pete Tragos used to be my sales manager, at Advanced Plan Equipment. I moved for Hawaii for a year. I lived on Maui, but the kids didn’t like it so we moved back and found out he’d started this restaurant. So we started eating here. And then I started working here probably around ‘96 maybe. And then I worked with one of the cooks, Chad Smith. Anyway we ended up buying Pete out in 1998. So Chad and I purchased the place, and Chad and I were partners for probably four, five, six years, then I bought Chad out. So I’ve had it for most of the time. I bought Chad out probably around 2001-2002? Yeah, probably about four years later.
I:Now you’ve got quite the selection of food on your menu. And I’ve got to say, when I was a kid and I first walked in there, I was thinking, “Wait, where is the pizza on the menu.” That’s all I really knew when someone said Chicago-style. But you’ve got really good ravioli, ribs, and even hot dogs. How did that specific combination of cuisine come together?
Dennis: Pete, the original owner, grew up on the north side of Chicago. So it’s North-side Chicago food. Our Italian beef, our Italian sausage, our meatballs: it’s all North-side Chicago. And our bread is from Chicago. We use Gonella, the big Chicago bakery, and then we also use Toronto Bakery. Anyhow, those are two very popular names in Chicago. But [we also use] Fontenini meats, so our beef sausage and meatballs are all North-side Chicago, gyros from Chicago, breads from Chicago. We think our credit card machine might also be from South Chicago.
There’s a little window [that says], “swipe customer’s card.”
Interviewer: Actually, as a followup to that, you have a number of murals on the inside of the building. Are they in reference to 20’s style Chicago?
Dennis: I don’t know why they [originally] put those up there. In fact I met the artist [Pete hired] years later. She’s young but I think I would have painted them around 1991 or 1992? And they just started with an airline theme, kind of a World War Two bomber theme. And then we just picked it up from there. We kind of kept it World War Two.
Interviewer: Okay, so more of a 40’s feel is what you were going for?
Dennis: Yep, because America, it was a strong country. We were in good spirits. We just won the war. You’ve got the baby boomers. We were a world superpower. America was great then. So if you come in, a lot of our advertisements are from the 40’s. In fact I have very few things that are modern. I try to keep it all 40’s.
Interviewer: Sure. You’ve mentioned a lot of what the made the place what it is today, but what changes has Pasquale’s seen recently? Have there been many changes?
Dennis: Not really. We’ve changes some of the food, but we’ve pretty much stuck with the original menu. You know we’ve added new items to the menu over the years, but our Chicago dogs are still number one, our gyros, [and] we’re famous for ribs, our baby-backs. We’ve won numerous awards for best ribs and we smoke them right here in house. Another thing we’ve changed quite a bit is adding more beers. We have about a hundred beers now. And we never used to carry wine. Now we’re going through wine like crazy. You know, half a dozen reds, half a dozen whites. Our wine business is really good. And then we’re also probably best known for our Old Fashioneds. People come here especially for our Old Fashioneds. We make it from scratch and I think it’s the best one I’ve ever had.
Interviewer: Not an easy claim to make.
You go out of Wisconsin and they say “what?” You don’t know what you’ll get because they don’t know what it is. It’s like a bubbler. You know where the bubbler came from? The Kohler company in Sheboygan. They invented the water fountain and they called it the “Bubbler.” It would kind of bubble out of the fountain … and that’s where that come from.
We’ve added a couple of things here and there, but we’ve mostly stuck with the original menu. We’re probably famous for our Alfredo. I always put it this way. I tell customers that when I walk by a table and someone’s moaning, they’re probably eating our Alfredo. All our sauces we make from scratch; people love it.
I:So what’s real pastrami? And where does it come from?
Dennis: Chicago too. We get the whole briskets and deli slice them on our slicer. Because the key there is, the thinner, the better. [What we have here], they call it turkey pastrami. It’s made out of turkey. You have a hard time finding pastrami, which is made out of beef. [It’s like] corned beef only it’s a little spicier. You know it would be [based on] the rub and the way it’s cooked. But usually around here you ask for pastrami and you get turkey pastrami.
Interviewer: Closing thoughts?
Dennis: The way I like to sum up Pasquale’s is that we’re a politically incorrect, non-sports, bar. In fact, most places you go in you have all these TV’s? I have one TV and that’s never on. We have it here for occasional Packer games, but the TV is never on here. That’s kind of unique. We’ve got the old [wood paneled] ceiling, the World War Two theme.