Women in Business: Leah Czerwonka, Christian’s Bistro, Father Fats, El Jefe
By Jacob Mathias
Leah Czerwonka, co-owner of area restaurants Christian’s Bistro, Father Fats and the upcoming El Jefe Tacos y Tequila can’t sit still.
After dropping out of an ill-fitting college education over twenty years ago, Point-native Czerwonka moved to Las Vegas on a whim where her foray into the restaurant industry began with food celebrity Emeril Legasse’s MGM Grand restaurant, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. From Vegas, Czerwonka continued on with Emeril’s restaurants, helping open six different locations.
Czerwonka eventually moved back to Vegas where she met her husband, Chef Christian Czerwonka. The two and their child moved to Atlanta for work and then began exploring opening their own restaurant space. At the time, Czerwonka’s mother was living in Atlanta as well, having moved there from Wisconsin to be with her grandchildren. When she announced she was going to back to Wisconsin, Czerwonka said “not without me.”
In 2005, sites for restaurants were scoped out in central Wisconsin. The location of Christian’s Bistro was chosen and after some difficulty finding capital, the restaurant opened in January 2007.
“When we first started…we had no one to run the restaurant at night. We didn’t have relationships with anybody. We didn’t have anybody we trusted,” she said.
Oftentimes in the early days, Czerwonka’s children would visit the restaurant after daycare until the work of the day was finished.
“My daughter learned how to walk at the bistro,” she said.
This went on for nearly three years before the restaurant ran efficiently and was well staffed enough for Czerwonka and her husband to take time off and make a commitment for at least one of them to be home at night with the children.
“It was year three and we were smooth sailing and we had a chef de cuisine in house and I had a general manager…I get bored really easily and I was like we should open another restaurant,” she said. “The bistro was running and it didn’t need me.”
The concept of Father Fats came about after the Czerwonka’s went on a date and couldn’t decide what to do later in the evening. They thought it would be cool to have a place where they could eat later in the evening and try lots of different things in the small plates style for which Fats is known.
“In Atlanta we’d go to six restaurants in a night and eat an appetizer at each restaurant,” she said.
Never liking too much structure in her life, Czerwonka loves the varied day to day challenges that restaurant life brings, the adrenaline rush of the stress of starting a new restaurant and being able to show people a good time.
“I get to throw a party every night,” she said. “There’s something really fabulous about helping people having a good time. You can turn somebody’s day around.”
She said she finds it exciting to expose people to something new food-wise and provide them with a great experience.
Father Fats opened in the summer of 2012. El Jefe is expected to open sometime this fall.
When she’s not working in her restaurants, Czerwonka enjoys reading, spending time with her daughters, 13-year-old Sophie and 9-year-old Ella, but she is always looking forward to her next project in the restaurant world.