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The Accidental Restaurateur

With Albanian roots, restaurateur “Nick” Semovski grows Monona Garden.

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Nedzmi “Nick” Semovski greets customers at Monona Garden Family Restaurant, his resonant voice and accent reminiscent – to the undisciplined ear – of late-actor Yul Brynner. The 53-year-old has owned this corner of the Bridge Road-West Broadway intersection in Madison since purchasing the former Lums building in 2003. Now, he serves a steady and devoted clientele ranging from the occasional diner to seniors, politicians, and businesspeople. Breakfast and lunch, he said, are the busiest times of the day, though the Friday fish fries are becoming more and more popular.

Semovski traveled a long way before landing in Madison. To discuss his past is to get a brief education in European history. Born and raised in the former Yugoslavia, under communism, Semovski describes himself as an “Albanian of Macedonian descent” and is fluent in both languages, though he actually speaks four. “I am not fluent in English,” he admits, but one could argue otherwise. “Reading and talking [in English] is very easy. Writing is very difficult.” 

Semovski didn’t know any English when he, his wife, Nermin, and their 5-year-old son left for America in 1984. At the time, he said, people were eager to leave, and Yugoslavia encouraged it. The family applied to several countries, seeking admittance. Some family members received visas from Canada and settled in Toronto, while Semovski and his wife moved to the U.S. 

In one month’s time, they visited Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York before deciding to settle in Chicago. “Things were very difficult. It was hard to find jobs. I couldn’t find a dishwashing job.” 

With a mechanical mind and a couple of years of college in his homeland, he took a job with General Foods in Chicago, doing a variety of jobs and working as many as 100 hours a week. “Others didn’t want to work more than their 10 or so hours a day,” Semovski recalled. He, on the other hand, firmly believes hard work breeds success. 

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