My Wausome Story: Ed Giallombardo, Owner, West Side Tasty Treat
Original publication date: October 27, 2021
The plan wasn’t necessarily to purchase a restaurant. My wife Marjorie and I had always talked about a food truck. While I’ve lived in Wausau since 4th grade, Marj is from the Philippines. We both love to cook and knew that there were no authentic Filipino food options in the Wausau area, or even most of Wisconsin for that matter! We wanted to bring something different to the community, and a food truck, at the time, seemed like a good fit for us.
So how then did we end up buying a restaurant? When Wausau’s West Side Tasty Treat went up for auction in 2020, we submitted a bid. Neither of us thought we’d actually get it. Truth be told, the timing wasn’t great for us. We were raising a young child, with another on the way. Plus, the pandemic. But we went for it. That’s one thing that Wausau has taught me in the last decade or so of living here: If you want to make something happen, you can. There is so much opportunity.
My story of investing in this community and why I chose to stay in Wausau doesn’t really start there though. If I’m being honest, after college, I didn’t plan to stay. Early in my career I traveled a lot. I figured I’d find a place that I liked more, that had more to offer, and then I’d move there.
But every time I returned from traveling, I was happy to be here. After a few years of this, I decided to stay. And once I made that decision, I knew I wanted to add to the quality of life for others in this community.
In that light, I founded Wausau’s annual Paddle Pub Crawl. Initially, it was just me and a few friends. We’d put our kayaks in at Everest Park, kayak to Trail’s End bar, eat dinner, and then paddle back to our cars. It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon and evening. And it was so simple to do: throw a canoe on the car, drive 5 minutes, and you’re on the water in the middle of town.
People in bigger cities don’t have that convenience. I call it Wausau Convenience. It’s one of the reasons I love this community. The city offers so much for its size. We have world-class curling, kayaking, and theatre at our doorsteps. Yet none of the hassles you have to deal with in larger cities that offer the same amenities. It’s also the same for getting out of the city. Drive 5-minutes and you are in the wilderness. It amazes me.
After doing this kayak trip with friends a few times, I thought, why don’t we invite others to do this? And so, I did. Word spread on social media, and during that first year of organizing the event, we had a handful of people show up. From there though, it grew quickly. This past summer we had close to 1,000 participants. It has become a beloved community event. My original intent was to create a sense of community and bring people together. It’s doing that.
From there, the paddle pub crawl connected me to a number of city leaders and stakeholders. As a result, I was invited by Wausau’s former Mayor to be part of a group tasked with coming up with project ideas to enhance the quality of life for city residents. We were involved in a number of projects, including the development of a stage and sound system behind the library on the River Walk. That stage is free for anyone to use. Just show up and play. I love the concept and am happy to have the resource in our community. We also got the city’s new dog park off the ground.
All of these activities certainly got me more involved with this community and made me appreciate the people here. When my wife and I won the bid to become the owners of West Side Tasty Treat, we were excited about the opportunity to go all in on this dream of ours in a community we had both grown to love.
While the business was known for its ice cream and hot dogs, we knew from the beginning we would add a Filipino twist. My wife is a wonderful cook. She learned traditional Filipino cooking from her father while growing up and living in the Philippines. I love to cook as well. I also saw it as an opportunity to bring something new to the community. At one point in time, I thought my contribution to Wausau would be the paddle pub crawl. Then the dog park. But now, I’m a local business owner, which gives me a much bigger stake and vested interest in our community’s success. I want Wausau to grow and improve.
While we are still learning, we’ve been encouraged by some wins we had this past summer. Our diversity here in Wausau has helped. People are willing to try new foods. Filipino food has a Spanish influence; it’s not just another noodle dish. Because of our varied culture here, it has been a little easier getting people to try something different. Word is starting to get out more. We are becoming known for our lumpia rolls and pork belly. We had a great response at our booth at the Big Taste fundraising event and will be looking for more opportunities to give back in the future. We’ve found that once someone tries the food, they almost always come back. People who like something different recognize that what we offer is the real deal. We’ve also started to provide catering for parties and events and have started to see that business grow. Participating in the Big Taste fundraising event was a great experience for us and we will be looking for similar opportunities in the future.
We kept the ice cream and hot dog part of the business as well. We knew that would be important to families. Having two young children ourselves, Marj and I wanted to make our business extremely family friendly. I’d say we cater to all families, but particularly those with younger kids. We built a stage and large tent for family-friendly live music sing-alongs, dancing, and outdoor dining all summer. And we plan to do the same next summer. We’ve loved seeing individuals from all varying backgrounds and ages come together under our tent to enjoy a night of authentic Filipino food, ice cream, and family music.
We’ve certainly had challenges too. Opening this business during a pandemic has not been easy. Managing the staffing shortages our region is experiencing has also been hard. But we are encouraged by the response we’ve received from the community. And in terms of the big picture, I’m hopeful we can continue to grow our footprint and provide a new experience to Wausau. Because the way I see it: You can either move to a better place or you can make the place you already live better. I’ve chosen the latter.
Photo courtesy of Christina Kimball for Wausau Pilot and Review