By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 03, 2022 at 9:01 AM

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee! OnMilwaukee Dining Month is served up by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and Wollersheim Winery & Distillery.

After nearly 30 years, longtime restaurateurs Leslie Montemurro and Scott Johnson are stepping back from their longtime ownership Fuel on 5th, Finks and BelAir Cantina.

“Scott and I have been in the restaurant business since 1993,” notes Montemurro. “It’s been an amazing and crazy journey. Now it’s time to explore some other dreams in life.” 

To facilitate the change, Montemurro and Johnson have sold their majority shares in Fuel on 5th and Finks to longtime BelAir Cantina partner, Kristyn Eitel. They have also fully transferred their ownership shares in BelAir Cantina to Kristyn Eitel and operating partner Chef Noe Zamora. In turn, Zamora has also taken on additional shares in the BelAir concept, with which he has been involved from the beginning.

That said, Montemurro and Johnson will remain majority owners of Balzac and Hi-Hat/Garage, with Eitel taking on new shares as a minority owner of the two East Side venues.

Overall, the shift in ownership is expected to be seamless; in fact customers are unlikely to notice any major changes at any of the venues, all of which will remain open and operating as usual.

A new era

That said, Eitel, who has dedicated over 30 years of her career to the hospitality industry, says she is more than ready to tackle this new chapter in her career and work toward sustainability and success for all of the restaurant and bar brands.

Among her goals is to prioritize growth, consistency, and sustainability, particularly for the BelAir Cantina brand, which has evolved over the course of the past 12 years, growing from its inaugural location on Water Street, founded in 2010, to include five additional eateries in Wauwatosa, Oak Creek, Madison, Brookfield and on Downer Avenue.

By her side since the brand’s inception is Chef Noe Zamora, who helped to build the brand’s following with his inspired mix of traditional Mexican cooking and modern flavor profiles.

Noe Zamora
Chef Noe Zamora

Creating a menu which has evolved in accordance with the communities which BelAir serves, is among the many factors which have allowed the restaurant to adapt and remain relevant in an ever-changing industry.

“Being a part of BelAir Cantina has been an incredible experience and I love the opportunities for this concept,” said Zamora. “I’m so proud of the menu we have now and all the dishes we’ve created since 2010…but I’m just scratching the surface and I can’t wait to show the city what’s to come!”

Like so many local restaurants, BelAir has navigated the uncertainty and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, despite setbacks, their collective experience combined with a dedicated team of employees has allowed them to envision a positive path into the future.

“Flexibility, patience, and simply listening better have to be three of the major takeaways from the last few years,” says Eitel. “And I believe our restaurants need to live authentically in the communities in which they occupy. To do that, it’s our job to support the people, initiatives, and priorities that ultimately push us all forward.

"BelAir Cantina is a space that has always prided itself on the notion of ‘come as you are’…so these will remain establishments where everyone will always have a seat at the table.”

Moving forward, one of the first items on Eitel’s agenda will be reviving the Powered by Tacos program at BelAir Cantina. This philanthropic effort, which was suspended during the pandemic, 

has awarded $153,000 to local organizations and community efforts. Past recipients of funds are the Tosa Skate Park, Urban Ecology Center, Camp Minikani, Journey House, and Ronald McDonald House Charities. The next beneficiary of the program will be announced in the months to come as the program begins to take off.

Despite the shift in ownership, Eitel, Montemurro and Johnson will move forward with the same collaborative spirit they’ve always brought to their venues, as well as their shared goal in bringing success to the concepts which have contributed to the enhancement of the local restaurant scene.

“We are still finding our footing as we continue to come out of the lasting impacts of the pandemic,” says Eitel. “However, I’m happy for Scott and Leslie as they embrace their next chapter. I can honestly say, our confidence comes from within our team. I’m fortunate to work with Noe, an experienced and passionate partner that is all-in and excited for what’s to come. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.