Muskego restaurant grows like a family tree
Willow Tree's owners benefit from motherly help
Muskego — A relatively new restaurant begins its first full year in the city by making further adjustments its family approach, including plans to expand the menu.
Willow Tree Café, at S7761 Racine Ave. in the Muskego Centre north of Piggly Wiggly, is owned by Mary and Ken Belmore, spouses whose mothers both ran restaurants or bars in the couple's younger years.
After an admittedly rocky start last summer, the owners used early customer feedback to guide them. Now, nearly all the feedback gives them fours or fives on a scale of five.
"We're very happy," Mary said.
Family plays a role in the restaurant's offerings.
For Mary, working at her mother's restaurant was her first job. Now, Mary's mother, Carol Alderton, creates all the bakery items.
Ken's mother also has a hand in the menu. Wednesdays are Michigan pasties night, using a recipe developed by Ken's mother.
A lot of people have been satisfied after stopping by to test the pasties to see if the savory ground beef, potatoes and carrot combination tucked into a crust are as good as the real thing in Michigan, Mary said.
"They say, 'I know Michigan pasties,'" Mary said. "They like them a lot.
For those on the adventurous side, the Willow Tree has a spaghetti pancake that Mary's mother created years ago. The spaghetti is mixed with cheddar and Parmesan cheeses in this substantial pancake that is served with marinara sauce on the side.
All the sauces and as many of the soups and other selections as possible come from recipes the Belmores grew up with.
Building the menu
Aside from their own family contributions, the restaurant owners are also proud of its original Muskego pizzaburger, made from the original family recipe of the unaffiliated Pizzaburger Restaurant that served Muskego residents for many years, Mary said.
That family now sells a line of seasonings and actually came to the Willow Tree to teach the chefs how to make real Muskego pizzaburgers, she added.
The Willow Tree Café has breakfast all day, pizza, plus sandwiches from about $6.95 to $8.75 with french fries, wraps mostly going for $7.65; burgers for $7.50 to $7.95, chicken sandwiches for $8.50 to $8.95, and dinners from about $9.25 to $10.95.
Dinner is one selection a night, plus a board special.
Friday is fish fry night. The Belmores hope to add perch to their current cod fish fry, Mary said.
They also will add Irish nachos, substituting beer-battered french fries for tortilla chips while still serving them with the traditional nacho beef, sour cream, cheese, onions, salsa and maybe even black beans.
The Willow Tree décor features a large forest-green mural with a willow tree and a woman in a yellow dress relaxing on a park bench sipping coffee. Muskego muralist Virginia Hilton did the mural and Mary said, "We were very, very happy with her work."
Willow trees bring back fond childhood memories, she said, and that's why she was drawn to the name Willow Tree Cafe.
The couple lives in Muskego and have a son, 17, and daughter, 11. The new entrepreneurs are active in the community, both belonging to the Lions Club and the Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce. Mary served as an ambassador with the chamber. They also were previously involved in Scouting.
— Jane Ford-Stewart
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