Jim Gatto works to become part of the fabric of the Marquette community
It is early Sunday morning as Jim Gatto takes his place behind the grill at 1617 W. Wells St. The campus town location of Broken Yolk will soon be filled to the brim with college students recovering from a night out. Gatto, 65, will spend the rest of the morning, and most of the afternoon feeding the patrons who come to his restaurant every week on an anti-hangover pilgrimage.
This is a normal Sunday morning at Broken Yolk. Hundreds of hungry students are going to come in and out all day. Many will sit at one of the tables in the small storefront and wait for their food to be served while they talk about the previous nights escapades. On the other side of a small counter, occupied mostly by coffee dispensers and a cash register, Gatto and a few other men sling eggs and bacon on the flat top grill as fast as they can while still trying to achieve perfection in the dish.
“People aren’t stupid,” says Gatto bluntly. “Whether they’re 19 year old students or 35 year old mid life adults. Money doesn’t grow on trees and people aren’t going to spend money if the product isn’t any good.”
Gatto is exactly the kind of person you would expect to be running the breakfast food and sandwich shop on a college campus. The self-stylized “short dumpy guy on the grill” is noticeably humble, but with a demeanor that puts you at ease as soon as he starts to talk. He speaks like a natural storyteller, in long stretches filled with personal anecdotes that make you want to stop what you’re doing and just listen.
Even though he fits behind the counter of his restaurant so perfectly, Gatto hasn’t always been in the restaurant business. Interestingly enough, he graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in accounting in 1970. After graduating he worked as a cable sales representative in the northeast. In 1977 he left his job and permanently moved into the food business in Boston.
By 2001 he and his wife owned several restaurants across Boston, including a Broken Yolk at Tufts University, as well as a large-scale bakery. Unfortunately for Gatto, however, he had developed a very serious kidney problem. He and his wife decided that they needed a change in lifestyle. They set about selling their businesses in Boston and prepared to move west to California.
The interesting aspect to legends is that they are based in fact. Legend has it that Gatto was just vacationing in Milwaukee when he decide to open up his first Broken Yolk. This is very close to what actually happened. He was visiting his in-laws in town when he was convinced that Milwaukee, not California or Florida, which was also an option he was strongly considering, was the place for him
“While we were here, in a week moment, they pretty much convinced my wife to talk to me about staying in Milwaukee,” Gatto said.
As Gatto tells it, how he ended up on campus was an act of fate. He and his wife wanted to go to mass on campus, but had nothing to do until the 6 p.m. start time. They were driving up Wisconsin Ave. when a driver cut him off, right outside of the 2040s. Gatto spotted the empty space that would eventually become the first BroYo in the Marquette area. The rest is history. The restaurant he and his wife opened became incredibly successful, and last year they opened the second location on Wells St., which Gatto now manages.
Gatto hopes that Broken Yolk can become a part of the fabric of the Marquette community in the same way that Sobelman’s or Real Chili has. He wants to have alumni come back years after they graduated and reminisce about the good times they had when they were there. With the devout following Broken Yolk has on campus, that would seem not only possible, but entirely likely.