Tom Strini

Art, commerce and employee relations

Art, esprit de corps, public relations and just plain fun combine in the "side work" photo show at Transfer and Via restaurants in Milwaukee.

By - Oct 14th, 2012 03:51 pm
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Transfer/Via employee “Side Work” photo exhibit. Photos by Howard Leu.

The faces in the photo show that filled the walls of Via on Downer echoed the faces in the crowd at the opening party Thursday evening. Most of the party goers were employees of Via pizzeria and its South Side sister restaurant, Transfer.

Everyone, including the owners, was smiling.

“I’ve been in this business a long time,” said Krys Zielinski, one of the three owner-managers.  “It’s not usually like this.”

Photos of employees, by employees.

When they started Transfer in March of 2008 (Via opened in May of 2010), Zielinski and the Rossetto brothers, John and Russell, made a pact that they would have a different relationship with their employees than the punch-in, punch-out/expendability mentality typical of the industry.

For starters, about 30 of their 90 employees are actors, writers, singers, playwrights, painters, musicians and photographers. Many others are aspiring entrepreneurs, community activists and creatives of some sort. Interesting people are just more interesting to be around, for bosses, other employees and customers. They also tend to have a high work ethic. Zielinski and the Rossettos go out of their way to accommodate them, through flexible scheduling and by making the Transfer and Via available for their fund-raisers and performances.

This photo show, called side work, raises that commitment a level. Four photographers, three of them current employees, were charged to shoot pictures of all the Transfer/Via workers. That and black-and-white were the only rules. Megan Peters, Kathleen Hamilton, Heidi Spencer, and Jamie Gelllings shot in the restaurants, on location around town and in studio set-ups.

John Rossetto coordinated the project, including gaining permission to shoot at the Milwaukee County Transit facility very near Transfer. The owners sorted through over 7,000 photographs to select about 100 for the show. All of them hung at Via for the opening party. Over the weekend, half went South to Transfer. The pictures will hang through Jan. 11.

“Our marketing plan from the start was to aim at a niche, the creatives,” John Rossetto said, in an interview a few days before the opening. “We went for engaged people, people who go out. That’s why we advertise in Footlights and ThirdCoast Digest. We didn’t really intend to to hire a lot of artists, but because we support the arts, they were drawn to us. Then they brought in their friends.”

Dennis Johnson (of Uprooted Theatre) and Andrew Edwin Voss (of Youngblood Theatre) were early hires and helped to get the ball rolling.

In addition to hiring artists to wait tables, cook and clean, the brothers hire musicians to play in their establishments. John grew up playing saxophone and clarinet, and Russell, who is trying to regain his trombone chops, manages the musical attractions and occasionally sits in with the Transfer house band.

“We always appreciated music,” Chris said. “Especially jazz. We try to treat the bands well. They get paid even if nobody shows up. They appreciate it and tell their friends, and that helps our reputation.”

You wouldn’t think that vintage jazz styles could pack a pizza palace on a week night, but it’s worked beautifully for Transfer and Via.

The staff enjoys the music and musicians as much as the customers do, and when the joint is jumping on a Tuesday night, everyone’s earning.

The point is to do well by doing good. Same with side work, which serves art, the artists — yes, the work is for sale, and the management takes no commission — employee relations and the pizza business. The three partners aren’t running a charity. Their plans and projects must work on every level, including business. So far, so good.

“Customers will think the side work is interesting,” John Rossetto said. “They tend to think highly of a business with an engaged, interesting staff.”

Now, meet the photographers, and through their pictures, some of that engaged Transfer/Via work force.



Home: Eastside Milwaukee
Age: 25
Profession/Current job(s): I am a photographer (BFA Photography UW-Milwaukee) and I currently work at Via Downer/Transfer Pizzeria Cafe as a


Ella Dwyer, photographed by Megan Peters.

Other Interests/Hobbies/Activities: I absolutely love to travel, spend time outside (camping, hiking, fishing, etc), am fascinated by the ocean and wildlife, and can’t get enough of my family and friends.
Last Book Read/Favorite Book: I cannot name one book that is my favorite above all others, but one that has always stuck out for me is White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
Last Accomplishment:
A year ago this fall, I hit the road with my boyfriend, Andrew Voss, in a pink pick-up truck (deemed “Pinky”) and our Skamper Camper (“Skampy”) to travel America for three weeks. I photographed all along the way and got the chance to see America from a different angle and though a different perspective; beautiful. Upon returning, and along with three other artists/co-workers (including Heidi Spencer), I generated an idea for an art show that we held in April 2012; through collaboration we organized and executed a two night/day gallery show, Speculative Alchemy, with a total of 17 artists (including Kathleen Hamilton and Jamie Gellings) of various mediums.
Favorite Food or VIA/Transfer item: I’m hooked on the Paisano pizza at Transfer and the grilled calamari over at Via, no doubt.



Busser-violinist Michael, photograph by Heidi Spencer.


Home: Milwaukee
Profession/current job: bartender @ Via, musician.
Other interests:  Filming (Masters in Fine Arts:Film from UW-Milwaukee), editing, people, collecting vintage valentines, antique postcards, and miscellaneous oddities.
Favorite book: The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein.
Last accomplishment:
  Three songs written, recorded and mixed for my fourth record.
Quote: “The showoff must go on,” Jim Spencer, deceased.
Favorite food (at VIA):  margarita pizza, hands down.



Home: West Bend. I was raised in Dotyville, Wisconsin, a place of pastures, churches, and taverns. It’s just outside Fond du Lac, sounds like another world, though. My first job was in Dotyville, at my aunt’s Green Acres Supper Club. I now live and work in West Bend.
Profession/current job: I run Jamie Gellings Media, a photography, cinematography, and graphic design


Jamie Gellings photo.

business. Being a glutton for the restaurant industry though, I have yet to break away, as I manage Cafe Soeurette in downtown West Bend. Between photographing over a dozen weddings this year and helping run one my town’s favorite restaurants, there isn’t too much time for… well, just time.
Other interests:  Filming, editing, people, collecting vintage valentines, antique postcards, and miscellaneous oddities.
Last book: The book that’s waiting for me to finish it right now is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Last accomplishment:  Latest achievement would have to be side work… I mean, come on. This whole project has been so awesome. Having been in the restaurant industry for over a decade, it just feels natural to take photos in a restaurant. But at the same time, I’ve also gotten to photograph people in environments I never would have been able to before.  Meeting and capturing all the personalities it takes to make Transfer, VIA, and this project a success has been nothing short of awesome. And top it off with such a great show reception…yeah, awesome. There has been talk of another art show…
Quote:  “Life is a beautiful struggle.”
Favorite food (at Transfer): Can’t go wrong with the garlic pizza… so good.




Kathleen Hamilton photo, Brandon and Travis in the kitchen.

Home: Milwaukee
Profession/current job: server at Transfer Pizzeria.
Other interests:  architecture – art – Clinton Street Antiques – nature – solitude – walking.
Last book read:  Just Kids, by Patti Smith. Favorite book is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodges Burnett, illustrations by Tasha Tudor.
Last accomplishment: side work photography exhibit. My next project – photographs for a woman’s health clinic.
Quote: “For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” – Virginia Woolf.
Favorite food:  Thai. Favorite Transfer item: the Katalina pizza.

sidework from Third Coast on Vimeo.








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