than 15 years ago, West Allis native Mark Lutz, a trained mechanical
engineer, tapped inspiration from his childhood treks to the
neighborhood cheese shop to pursue a surprising new path.
Lutz, who owns the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe
with his wife, Linda, says he grew up visiting the Becher Street
shop, which first debuted as a storefront for Merkts Cheese Company
in the 1960s. The Merkt family sold the place in the ’80s, and, Lutz
explains, he and Linda purchased it from its former owner in 2002,
aiming to revive the business he so loved as a kid.
“Everybody in the neighborhood would just come at
Christmas,” Lutz explains. “I called [the owner] when it closed. I
pretty much bought a building; it wasn’t much of a business.”
The Lutzs gradually restored the shop to its former
glory, securing a booth in the Milwaukee Public Market when it
opened in 2005 as a secondary location. When food service at the
market location — think sandwiches, chili-cheese fries and
house-made mac and cheese — proved popular, the couple added a café
and deli to the West Allis shop in 2014.
Lutz believes that diversifying their business and
its offerings is key. In September, he’ll open Becher Meats, an
old-fashioned butcher shop located just west of the West Allis shop.
Becher Meats will sell house-made sausages and in-house smoked
meats, as well as the usual butcher shop fare. Lutz says he hopes to
emulate the meat quality established by the now-closed Grasch Foods.
want to be at a Sendik’s — or maybe slightly under — price point,
but at Grasch’s quality,” he adds. “The butcher that’s coming on
board has been doing it since he was 15. He’s 51 now.” The
introduction of Becher Meats will also free up valuable real estate
in the West Allis shop’s retail area, as Lutz plans to move the meat
coolers to the butcher shop. A 12-stool cheese bar will occupy the
space the coolers leave behind.
And Lutz isn’t stopping there. He recently bought the
property east of the West Allis shop too, where he eventually plans
to open a beer garden. Patrons can enjoy fresh brats from Becher
Meats or order from Wild Roots, a nearby restaurant that had its
soft opening in March. Lutz owns the building that houses Wild Roots
and leases the space to chef/farmer duo and restaurant owners Thi
Cao (formerly of Buckley’s) and Bryan De Stefanis (of Big City
Greens and Sourced in Nature).
Though he’d never say so, Lutz is perhaps to credit
for the revitalization of West Allis’ culinary scene in recent
years. In addition to managing his own businesses and properties, he
launched Eat West Allis, a cooperative group of restaurants and
specialty food retailers that promotes culinary tourism in West
Allis. The group hosts near-monthly events, with West Allis Cheese &
Sausage Shoppe often as a sponsor, to draw new faces to the city and
celebrate Eat West Allis members. And while Lutz says the city now
handles the group’s website operations and social media sites, he’s
no stranger to e-commerce and online platforms. But he very clearly
prefers the in-person, brick-and-mortar approach. “I’d rather grow
the business over the counter,” he says.
The approach is