Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Dixon Blames Wolf Peach’s Operator for Closing

Wolf Peach investor says its operator is "almost delusional" and OMC story is "fictional."

By - Mar 14th, 2018 04:36 pm
Wolf Peach. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

Wolf Peach. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

The story of how the restaurants Wolf Peach and Supper closed is not as straightforward as it seems.

The narrative spun in the OnMilwaukee story that broke the news is that a suburban business owner bought the building occupied by Wolf Peach at 1818 N. Hubbard St. and attempted to take over the farm-to-table restaurant. Wolf Peach operator Gina Gruenewald refused, opting instead to close Wolf Peach and her other restaurant Supper, which Gruenewald co-owns with Erich Wilz.

Developer Tim Dixon, who owns the building, tells an entirely different story.

In an exclusive interview with Urban Milwaukee, Dixon opened by stating: “Everything I’m going to tell you is factual, and everything from that writer is fictional” — referring to OMC writer Lori Fredrich. Dixon, a long-time Milwaukee real estate developer, says Gruenewald is “almost delusional” over the matter.

Dixon, who says he was a partner with Gruenewald in the award-winning restaurant, contends that his entire involvement in Wolf Peach was designed to make Gruenewald succeed. “It was a screaming success right out of the box. All of the sudden Gina became this different person. It became my restaurant, not our restaurant,” says Dixon. The developer, who lives near the restaurant and was one of the earliest investors in the redevelopment of Brewers Hill, contends Gruenewald reneged on a handshake deal, took the restaurant for herself, and ultimately was using Wolf Peach to support her new restaurant Supper.

The Wolf Peach partnership was born out the failed Roots restaurant in the same space. The two jointly opened the new restaurant in the space 30 days after the failure of Roots. Gruenewald had served as the manager of Roots, and convinced Dixon to invest in a new venture instead of bailing out the prior owner. Dixon is thankful for that advice, saying chef and prior owner John Raymond looted the wine cellar and left the restaurant.

Dixon says a team of people worked like mad to form the new restaurant. He invested $242,000 in the project for a 45 percent equity stake, with Gruenewald investing a similar amount via loans for a 45 percent equity stake. The remaining share was to go to frequent Dixon collaborator Joe McPherson. Dixon and executive chef Dan Jacobs came up with the menu.

Jacobs corroborated the statement in an interview, noting that chefs Cole Ersel and Kyle Toner were also involved in the menu’s creation. Jacobs says he isn’t aware of the details of the ownership arrangement, but that he always understood Dixon to be an investor. Another source close to the matter confirms Dixon’s version of the partnership.

The developer concedes that nothing was written into a contract. “I’m a handshake kind of guy,” Dixon says, noting that the effort was to get the new restaurant open as quickly as possible. A liquor license filed with the city lists Gruenewald as the sole owner. Dixon says that despite his investment, Gruenewald repeatedly insisted it was her restaurant. “When the success came, so did the greed,” says Dixon.

“It’s disgusting, it’s disappointing. I have done nothing but do this time and time again,” said Dixon, ticking off the list of other businesses he’s had a hand in starting or growing, including the Stack’d burger bar, design-build firm Scathain and Aonair Wines in Napa Valley.

Dixon says he cautioned Gruenewald against opening Supper, a modern supper club, in the Shorecrest Hotel at 1962 N. Prospect Ave. “The goose that laid the golden egg was Wolf Peach, she needed the cash [from Wolf Peach] to keep Supper open.” Dixon says. Over time, Gruenewald began paying rent late for the Wolf Peach space.

Wolf Peach, named after an old slang term for tomatoes, was paying below-market rents according to Dixon. With the lease set to expire in October 2017, Dixon says he began negotiating a new lease well in advance of its expiration. The process went on for months, with Dixon ultimately saying he would put the building on the market and that Gruenewald and a partner were welcome to buy it. Gruenewald did ultimately find a buyer, but Dixon already had the building under contract to be sold. “I wanted her to be successful, but I can’t break a contract because I wanted Gina to succeed,” says the developer.

Supper closed March 12th. Wolf Peach is expected to close this month. A Craigslist advertisement is posted for a chef of a new restaurant slated to open in the space.

Dixon will close on the sale to Carl Tomich in the coming weeks. The 6,920-square-foot building, which offers great views of the downtown skyline, was assessed at $877,000 in 2017. A 2,180-square-foot office space is located above the restaurant. Tomich, a suburban real estate developer, owns Stonefire Pizza Co. in New Berlin.

It remains to be seen what the new restaurant will be like, but the loss of Wolf Peach, Dixon says, is Gruenewald’s fault. “I have to get out the factual story,” he says.

As for Gruenewald, she did not respond to a request for comment by phone and email.

Wolf Peach

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17 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Dixon Blames Wolf Peach’s Operator for Closing”

  1. Patty says:

    If anyone knows anything about greed, it would be Tim Dixon.

  2. Peter says:

    I feel like the comments regarding John Raymond “looting the cellar and leaving the restaurant” is irrelevant and pointless. And yes, there are two sides to a story, both should get told, and we just get to speculate and come to our own conclusions. However, unless I missed something, no where on “the other side” of the story did I read Gruenewald personally attack Dixon or name call him. The only real prevalent thing that came across here is the maturity level or lack thereof. Sometimes the telling of a story is more important or revealing than the story itself.

  3. PMD says:

    Took my parents to Supper in November for their 40th anniversary. Everything was exceptional: food, service, ambiance. It was a night we’ll always cherish and we vowed to return. Sad that will never happen.

  4. Q says:

    I think there is a lot more to this story that both sides are not disclosing. As soon as I heard the location for Supper when it was being opened, I knew it wouldn’t last long. The fact that both restaurants are almost simultaneously closing lets me know Supper must have just been hemorrhaging money. It seems like the developer spent a lot of time and gave quite a few breaks to the restaurateur to allow her to live her dream, but at the same time was foolish not to get anything in writing. “I am a handshake guy” sounds like he’s probably broken a few deals of his own. That being said the mud slinging is silly. Whats done is done move on now.

  5. Cellar says:

    I’ve personally known everyone in this story except for “is this fresh squeezed grapefruit juice” Tim Dixon whom I only had the pleasure of meeting three times while he drank Greyhounds. I just want to say leave John Raymond out of this, he’s had more than his share and he’s paid his price and he’s doing just fine having come to terms with his demons. That has nothing to do with the issue at hand and these rival articles positioning different versions of the story of the sale are never going to be totally transparent or objective. All of these people involved devoted their lives to service, they provided jobs and a great place to eat both as Roots and Wolf Peach and no one that runs a restaurant that is hugely successful is going to be without personal faults either interpersonal or financial. You all had a good run. Roots forever.

  6. Kayla says:

    ^^^ “is this fresh squeezed grapefruit juice” Tim Dixon!!! What an awesome title that fits such an unscrupulous business man so perfectly. I hope anyone who could choke down the poison in this article has enough wits to read between the lines. “i’m a handshake kind of guy” sounds like a full of himself business man with a lack of an actual moral compass. And please, Tim, for the sake of everyone who’s had the displeasure of ever working with or for you, or even juicing a single grapefruit at your request (as i’ve done many times), please show some kind of respect for anyone else in this business, including John Raymond. I can only hope karma is real.

  7. Tim says:

    I find it hard to believe any casual reader cares so much about this. It’s interesting like the aftermath of a car collision… people act like people. Shocking? Apparently, Shocking!

  8. Kevin says:

    Was sorry to see Roots close. It was far better than Wolf Peach which we gave a try but it was a once and done for us. Hopefully the next place will be worth visiting again.

  9. Donnie says:

    Wait… if Tim was equal partners with Gina wouldn’t he have been responsible for half the rent!?!! Ha! And I agree leave John out of this. Roots didn’t”fail” it was also one of Milwaukee’s most successful restaurants to date! People still reminisce about it! It was more complex than “failure” and it has NOTHING to do with what’s going on now! This article is full of hate and the author should be ashamed to have written such a gossipy piece. Go start a blog. This is garbage.

  10. The Purple Dragon says:

    I’m glad I was part of both!! Life goes on, this is how we learn.

  11. The Purple Dragon says:

    I’m glad I was part of both!! Live and learn.

  12. Andrew Grabarkiewicz says:

    You should really worry about your own finance and personal issues Timmy! Sounds like you screwed up on Iron horse……..Nuff said

  13. James Stein says:

    Two sides to every story, for sure. I read this one with an open mind and finished it feeling dirty. This is a nasty piece of gossip about a personal and/or business relationship gone awry. In the end, I am a customer and could care less about who owns the building and a nasty feud. Wolf Peach was a superb restaurant and I will follow it wherever it re-opens or wherever Gina Gruenewald starts a new restaurant.

  14. Karen says:

    The loss of Roots and now Wolf Peach is very disappointing. Thank you to Gina and her staff for all of the outstanding meals my friends and I have had. So sorry I never had the chance to dine at Supper. For those of us who have lived on the east side for decades, people know of Tim’s reputation and ego–and when things go awry and how. As others have said, we can read between the lines. (Carl–please don’t give us another pizza restaurant. Look forward to hearing your plans.)

  15. Karen says:

    Tim–stop talking about this. It just reinforces what people are saying about you– I can understand why you would not admit this to yourself let alone publicly. Let it go.
    Gina–look forward to what you have planned going forward.

  16. Dave says:

    She couldn’t pay her bills to vendors on time either, I fully believe him over her based on the two articles alone.

  17. Karen says:

    Dave- are you sure you’re not a friend of Tim’s? LOL

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