New Wausau Cafe going strong despite pandemic


B.C. Kowalski/The City Pages

Jeff Asani now runs Wausau Cafe at 1702 Grand Avenue, which once house Jenny’s Cafe.

Jenny’s Cafe closed a few months ago as the pandemic put a strain on many restaurants in the Wausau area. But now, that restaurant has opened back up under new owners. 

The Wausau Cafe opened its doors earlier this month, and those taking a gander inside will notice quite a difference. The new owner, Jeff Asani, remodeled the restaurant on a short timeline of a couple of months to continue serving customers family-style food on Grand Avenue. 

Asani bought the restaurant a couple of months ago. Initially, he toured the restaurant with a friend who was interested in buying it, but when his friend decided against buying the restaurant, Asani says he decided to buy it himself. He told City Pages that the restaurant is in a good location, and he’s had a long history in family-style restaurants.

Thus began a furious two months to get the restaurant open, including purchasing new booths, repainting, updating the decor and lighting, and getting everything clean and presentable. Asani also overhauled the kitchen with new equipment. The restaurant has an airy atmosphere and makes for a comfortable family dining experience. “I changed everything,” Asani told City Pages. 

The only thing left is the sign, which requires city approval to change, he says. That sign will feature the logo created by his daughter, a university student. She also helps with some of the social media management, he says. 

Asani is no stranger to restaurants. He’s owned several in Illinois and owned one in Marshfield for 2 ½ years before opening the Wausau Cafe. Asani told City Pages that he typically buys restaurants, works really hard to get them running smoothly with great customer service, and then sells them once they’re running smoothly. Asani says he’s been in the restaurant business since he was 17 years old. 

Part of that is building good customer relationships, especially a loyal following with plenty of regular customers. As if on cue, a young man stops in to tell him he loves the restaurant, and that he works in the area, so plans to make Wausau Cafe his regular restaurant of choice. 

The menu is pretty standard American fare, with a touch of Italian, something Asani says he’s had success with. Prices are in line with what one might expect of a family-style diner – most menu items are under $10. Right now he offers dine-in and take-out but eventually wants to have delivery service too.

Asani is trained in 5-star restaurant and hotel management, but he realized that’s not really his style. “I don’t want to serve expensive food,” Asani says. “I like the family-style diner, where you get to know your customers, stay and have a chat with people.”

Was Asani worried about starting a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic? Sure, but Asani thinks he can make it work, and judging from the handful of folks who stopped in on a Monday afternoon during what would ordinarily be off-hours, it would seem to have a decent chance at success.