he was on the pastoral staff at Elmbrook Church, Tom Keppeler had
frequent conversations with Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn
Assembly of God in Sherman Park. The two talked about how to connect
compassion with ways to create career opportunities in low-wealth
communities. A reorganization at Elmbrook led Keppeler to join
Parklawn’s PRISM Economic Development Corp. as its executive
director. Through PRISM, Keppeler and Harvey began working with
others throughout the area to develop Sherman Park’s new food
business incubator, UpStart Kitchen, which is on track to open its
doors in May via a $50,000 grant from We Raise Foundation and other
partnerships and donations. Here, Keppeler tells us more.
What is the ultimate purpose of UpStart Kitchen?
I believe creating meaningful work is the way out of
poverty. That’s what starts changing the landscape of our
underserved neighborhoods. We know this first year is going to be a
learning curve, but we want to serve Sherman Park and the
Why did you
choose to develop a food business incubator?
Milwaukee’s really becoming a “foodie town” —
actually, it already is. The city could probably use five or six of
these kitchens, because there’s great enthusiasm for this. It’s
about stimulating entrepreneurship in the city.
How does it work?
You have to become a member client. We’ll sit down
and figure out where clients are at — are they a viable business or
just starting from scratch? We have a targeted fee structure to be
affordable for lower- to moderate-income individuals in Sherman Park
and surrounding neighborhoods. They come, they grow, they scale up,
and they “graduate” out.
Who do you expect
will be using UpStart Kitchen?
We had our first major fundraiser in August, and we
had three Milwaukee-based food entrepreneurs cater — an amazing beef
tips barbecue, walking tacos and small-order caterers, so those
types of businesses as well as food trucks, which have to be
connected to a fully licensed kitchen. And there might be just
seasonal clients, like an individual who does Christmas cookies.
Tell us about the
space, the former Gee’s Clippers building.
It’s a modest-sized kitchen, about 1,300 square feet,
right across the street from Parklawn Assembly of God. We have three
areas — a bakery, a hot area and a cold prep area. It’s not just a
licensed community kitchen that people can rent by the hour, it also
has cold and dry storage that people can rent by the week.
As you encourage
entrepreneurship, will you support clients in other ways too?
We have a partnership with WWBIC (Wisconsin Women’s
Business Initiative Corp.), and we’re talking with Milwaukee Public
Library business librarians, the Urban Economic Development Corp.,
and different ethnic Chambers of Commerce. We’re not going to try to
invent all this stuff. There are training, mentoring and business
services resources already out there. It’s a matter of people
knowing how to access them.
Where would you
like UpStart Kitchen to be five years from now?
We’d be at full capacity with 25 different clients
per month. Hopefully we’ve incubated over 100 businesses, and maybe
we’re already in the development stages of a second incubator
kitchen in the city.
My FIVE Favorite Things!
1 Skiing in a foot of fresh
powder in the mountains out west.
2 I love traveling with my
wife, exploring the local food culture.
3 We lived in Romania for 13
years, and I love speaking Romanian.
4 I love biking.
5 Christmas with all of our
adult kids at home or at the “no-phone” log cabin. We have three
all in their 20s.