'A big deal:' Beloved restaurateur Joe Bartolotta remembered at Riverside Theater funeral service

Joe Bartolotta funeral at Riverside Theatre

MILWAUKEE -- Following his tragic passing earlier this week, funeral services were held for renowned restaurateur Joe Bartolotta at the Riverside Theater on Saturday, April 27. The community came together to remember and celebrate the life of a Milwaukee visionary, a legendary man who touched many hearts.

"This is just a devastating loss for Milwaukee," said Kole Knueppel, who worked with Bartolotta at MPS. "Thank you, Joe, for all you've done for us."

Bartolotta was the co-owner of the beloved Bartolotta Restaurants. He wasn't just an exceptional chef, but also an impressive philanthropist and humanitarian. The community was shocked to hear about the passing of the 60-year-old -- a man who made his mark on Milwaukee.

Joe Bartolotta funeral at Riverside Theatre

"Thank you, Joe, for being part of this community," said Mayor Tom Barrett, a speaker at the funeral. "Joe was -- and is -- a big deal."

Joe Bartolotta funeral at Riverside Theatre

A news release says Bartolotta passed away peacefully in his sleep with a smile on his face on Monday, April 22.  The release also said, "Joe is beloved by the Milwaukee community for his hospitality, heart, generosity and love of all."

Everyone was invited to celebrate his life at the Riverside Theater on Saturday. Tweets from The Bartolotta Restaurants said, “In homage to Joe’s bright disposition that he brought every day, it is requested that no black attire be worn to the service.”

"Joe wouldn't have it any other way," said Knueppel. "He was such a festive human being."

Bartolotta touched all walks of life, from a former employee to a Bartolotta plumber.

Joe Bartolotta funeral at Riverside Theatre

"He did a lot for this city's hospitality," said Ramsey Renno, who worked for Bartolotta.

"Outstanding individual -- a very nice man," said Don Ratajczyk, a plumber.

Bartolotta did it all. A man who made a name for himself through cooking and restaurants was remembered as a man who had a genuine passion for finding happiness with good company.


"I believe it shows how diverse the man was and how many lives he touched," said Ratajczyk.

In lieu of flowers, the Bartolotta family requested that donations be made to The Italian Community Center, Discovery World or the Wisconsin Humane Society.

The service was open to the public, inviting Milwaukee community members to mourn alongside Bartolotta's friends and family. For those who were unable to attend the services, the entire event was live streamed through The Bartolotta Restaurants' Facebook page.