Crabby’s Bar & Grill — Fran Daniels has served up handmade fare for more than 50 years

March 1, 2018

By Catherine Jozwik

Kathy Bach and Fran Daniels pose in their restaurant, Crabby’s Bar & Grill. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Fran Daniels has been part of the Bay View business community for more than 50 years. He opened Francisco’s, his first restaurant, in 1964. Twenty years later he and his wife Kathy Bach enlarged the restaurant, added a bar, expanded the menu, and renamed it.

Because of its extensive seafood menu, Bach and Daniels named it Crabby’s Bar & Grill.

Located on the southeast corner of Kinnickinnic and Oklahoma avenues, Crabby’s décor includes a long wooden bar, paneling, lamp-lit tables, a big handmade canvas sailboat, and vintage Milwaukee photos. Crabby’s is a living testament to Bay View’s dining past that still offers a place to unwind. Smooth rock music from the 1970s plays through the speakers, creating a relaxing ambience for patrons.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said Daniels.

After Daniels’ stroke on Feb. 2, 2017, the couple closed the restaurant for nine months. They reopened it Dec. 4 with a new, pared down menu.

Daniels wants people to know that his restaurant is open again. “People think we’re closed,” he said, “but we’re not.”

And while Daniels and Bach have put their building on the market, they’re not in a hurry to sell.

“If it sells, great. If not, that’s okay,” Bach said.

The couple has witnessed many neighborhood changes, including a dramatic increase in the number of restaurants and bars, in their decades as Bay View business owners.

Daniels, now 77, said that when he opened his Italian restaurant, Francisco’s, in 1964, there were very few restaurants in the neighborhood, except for De Marinis.

Daniels said he and Ron Zeller, owner of At Random cocktail lounge, 2501 S. Delaware Avenue, opened their businesses at the same time and became close.

“He’s been my best friend for years,” Daniels said.

Years ago, Bay View was more family and community-oriented, according to Bach.

“If the neighbors had young kids, chances are they wound up working here,” she said.

Bach, a Rice Lake native, moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and met Daniels through mutual friends.

Daniels, who was raised in Bay View, attended Mound Street School and graduated from Bay View High School in 1958.

He was 17 when he graduated and began working in restaurants, mostly making pizzas. At 23, he borrowed $1,200 from his father, and he and Rose Stankiewicz, his boss and owner of Alsta’s restaurant, decided to go into business.

Together, the pair leased space on the south end of the building, sharing the building with other businesses such as a bakery, drugstore, and barbershop

“Rose showed him the ropes,” Bach said.

Daniels purchased the building in 1974 and converted the second level to living spaces.

He later purchased the two houses south of the restaurant and demolished them. Originally intending to create a space for outdoor dining, Daniels decided on a parking lot instead.

—Photo Jennifer Kresse

Later Daniels remodeled the exterior of the building. He expanded the restaurant by adding a bar and renamed it Crabby’s, reopening in 1984 with a more expansive menu than Francisco’s.

According to Bach, supper clubs, which experienced a downward trend in the past two decades, were popular among dining patrons when Crabby’s opened. Recently supper clubs are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, she said.

Bach said their entrees were made to order, no pre-made dishes. They even made their pasta from scratch.

Now, due to the couple’s time constraints and other commitments, such as Daniels’ physical therapy that requires several appointments each week, each several hours long, they have eliminated their original menu. No longer serving steaks, seafood, or its popular Friday night fish fry, the restaurant has gone back to Francisco’s roots, serving a variety of made-to-order pizzas prepared in an old-fashioned deck pizza oven with slate grates.

Some unusual and regional favorites include the cheese-and kraut pizza, cheese and shrimp pizza, and a white chicken pizza. “We have people driving all the way from Pewaukee for [the cheese and kraut pizza],” Bach said.

Asked about the Italian cuisine and the non-Italian surname Daniels, Bach said that Fran’s forebears were Italian. Although Fran’s father was adopted, his dad learned that his birth father was “part Italian” and that his grandfather’s last name was Matero.

Bach said she typically runs the restaurant alone, but if things get busy, she calls on two former staff members to help out—Denise Kraning, who waits tables, and Mike Scicero, who tends bar. Both have been with the business for more than 20 years.

“They’re pretty much family at this point,” said Bach.

Like any supper club worth its salt, Crabby’s serves up the Old Fashioned, a classic Wisconsin drink, but the spirits don’t end there.

Crabby’s has a full-service bar. Guests can choose from a variety of wines and domestic and imported beers.

Although Bach has taken over Daniels’ bartending duties, he was quick to mention that patrons can still imbibe traditional supper club drinks. Ice cream beverages include the Grasshopper, Pink Lady, and Brandy Alexander. For cold nights, Irish coffee, Bavarian coffee, and some of Daniels’ own creations warm customers, like the minty, sweet Irish Tease.

Because of its proximity to the St. Francis seminary, many students and religious figures, such as former and current archbishops Timothy Dolan and Jerome Listecki, have patronized Crabby’s.

Memorable and prominent customers throughout the years include former Milwaukee police chief Harold Breier, Milwaukee County Supervisor Dan Cupertino, and Oakland Raiders defensive end and onetime Oak Creek resident John Matuszak.

Kathy Bach and Francisco Daniels have been married for 46 years. Daniels has three children from a previous marriage. Two of his children followed their dad’s lead. His son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Dawn Daniels, own and operate Matero’s Pub and Pizza in Custer, Wis. His daughter and son-in-law Wendy and Thad Klasinski, own and operate Michele’s Restaurant and Catering in Stevens Point.

Andrew Oren, former pastor of the Bay View Methodist Church and lifelong resident, has been a customer of Francisco’s, then Crabby’s, for about 40 years.

“I’m a big fan of the pizza burgers. It’s a comfort food place for me,” he said.

Oren remembers how Francisco’s served up savory steak. “It would come out sizzling on a stainless-steel platter,” he said. The restaurant, smaller than Crabby’s, always seemed full of customers, Oren said.

Now retired, he still makes it a point to patronize Crabby’s every six weeks or so. He wants people to know that Bach and Daniels, along with their restaurant, are an essential part of Bay View history.

“It’s a mom-and-pop place,” said Oren. “I’d hate to see another chain store go in there.”

Editor’s Note: Before Fran Daniels expanded his restaurant and remodeled his building, the main door to the building was located on a diagonal across the northwest corner of the building. In the 1950s, Rocky’s Pharmacy, owned by Rocco Lincoln Giove, occupied the retail space. Prior to Rocky’s, it was McKinnon’s No. 2 Pharmacy, and before that, in the 1940s, Raleigh Pharmacy, according to John Giove, whose father was Rocky Giove.

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2 Comments on "Crabby’s Bar & Grill — Fran Daniels has served up handmade fare for more than 50 years"

  1. Kathy Junek on Fri, 2nd Mar 2018 7:24 am 

    A friend of mine sent me a link to your restaurant. Just wanted to let you know, that as a senior in high school(graduated in 1969) and a year or so after, my girlfriends & I would gather at your restaurant & enjoy the food & company. This brings back some good memories! I’ve moved away from the area, but if I ever make it down to Milwaukee, I’ll be sure to stop. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Cathy Muehe Kaminski on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 11:10 am 

    I loved going to Francisco’s for shrimp pizza in the late 60’s. It was a good time. Thanks for the warm memories.

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