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Alluring Milwaukee

By NAN BIALEK and JOAN ELOVITZ KAZAN

August 2013

Many Milwaukeeans who leave the city to study, to build their careers or simply to see the world realize they can never truly say goodbye. When they return, they find there really is no place like home. Then there are others who relocate here from other points across the globe and are finding a lot to love about their adopted city, from the scenic beauty of Lake Michigan to the friendliness of the people, and a whole lot more.


The Returnees

Lesley Kagen, New York Times best-selling author

She was raised on Milwaukee’s West Side, and Lesley Kagen’s career in advertising and acting took her to New York, Chicago, Colorado and Los Angeles. When she had her children, though, Kagen wanted them to grow up in the community she truly loved. "There’s a feel to Milwaukee I don’t think you can get anywhere else in the universe," Kagen says. That feeling, she says, comes "so much from the people, the way they approach life. It’s incredibly appealing. And we’re funny as well."

Kagen set her first novel, "Whistling in the Dark," in Milwaukee, and three subsequent books are set in Wisconsin, including her newest title, "Mare’s Nest." That story is set in a town like Cedarburg, where she now lives, because "it’s just like living in Milwaukee in the ’50s."

 

Thomas Hauck, c. 1880 owner/chef

Born in Milwaukee, Thomas Hauck grew up in Port Washington and moved with his family to Stone Mountain, Ga., in 1988. His career as a chef took him to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and to hone his art in France and the famous restaurant, Citronelle, in Washington, D.C.

In 2011 Hauck moved back to Milwaukee, working at The Pfister Hotel and Mason Street Grill before opening his critically acclaimed c. 1880.

"Milwaukee’s a great place to do just about anything," Hauck says, especially for those who want to do what they love and raise a family.

"It’s walkable, it’s doable," he adds, and its culture is teeming with exciting things to do. "I don’t think it’s going to remain a secret much longer."

 

Jen Ede, Edible Milwaukee publisher

It wasn’t just the opportunity to launch Edible Milwaukee magazine that brought Jen Ede back to Milwaukee last October. After going to school in Madison, working on her master’s degree in Belarus, and working in Chicago and Boston, Ede wanted to come home to her family.

"I had always felt a little displaced in Boston," she says. "It’s a really great city and has a lot to offer, but I guess I was always thinking of my family back home."

She recently settled into a 1930s-era apartment on the border of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, and is finding it as comfortable as the reception she’s getting for the magazine.

"We’ve had unbelievable support," she says, citing "the community partnerships that have emerged to put us on the road to becoming a sustainable business."

 

David Poytinger, Splash Studio co-owner

What he learned at Milwaukee’s German Immersion School as a kindergartner and first-grader set the tone for David Poytinger’s life.

"I built a career on that passion for language and skill in language, because what I learned as a kid carried through for me all the way into my late 20s," he says.

Poytinger studied abroad in Germany, and earned a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Austria. From there, he moved to south Florida where business took him back to Austria on a regular basis.

Poytinger and his wife, Marla Hahn, then moved to Madison to earn their MBA degrees. Combining their experience with the arts and the brewing industry, the couple recently opened Splash Studio in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, where you can create a work of art while enjoying your favorite beverage.

"There’s a groundswell right now of people investing time, energy and resources into making this city really cool," Poytinger says. "You can really shape the future and shape the culture of the city."

 

Karen Kempf, interior designer

When she moved to San Francisco in 1991, Karen Kempf, who grew up in Waukesha, was surprised at how little Californians knew about Wisconsin. She found herself repeatedly saying, "No, I don’t know Fonzie," and "Yes, we all like beer and cheese."

Kempf, who also lived and worked in New York and Chicago, says that moving back to Milwaukee made her feel "more grounded."

"The people are great and the quality of life is just … richer," she says, and "there’s nothing like hanging out on a lake in Wisconsin in the summer."

Kempf says she enjoys exploring the shops and restaurants in the city’s Third Ward and surrounding neighborhoods, but her favorite place remains the lakefront, a place she loved as a kid.

"It feels exactly the same to me in so many ways," Kempf says. "She has aged quite gracefully."

 

The Transplants

Jonathan Jackson, Milwaukee Film artistic and executive director

Cleveland native Jonathan Jackson discovered his passion for film at college in North Carolina. Seeking a school with a dedicated film program, he discovered UW-Milwaukee. A student job running the Union Theater led to a full time job in 2002 when he helped create the Milwaukee International Film Festival. Now a full-fledged Milwaukeean, Jackson says he loves "the casual nature of Milwaukee." "I like to dress casually, and I can go anywhere at any time and I’m welcomed." Through the film festival Jackson witnesses the positive political and philanthropic nature of our town. "The support for the arts and culture in this community is incredible, and I’ve experienced it firsthand."

 

Ken Leinbach, Urban Ecology Center executive director

Ken Leinbach relocated to Milwaukee 17 years ago from the Washington, D.C., area. One of his favorite aspects of the city is its bikeability. "It’s exceptionally bikeable, the more severe the weather, the more enjoyable the experience," he says. Lake Michigan is a favorite bike stop for Leinbach, who lives in Whitefish Bay with his wife and two children. "I ride my bike home and I jump in the lake or get out my kayak to clear out the workday."

 

Steven Stolman, Scalamandre president

Ask Steven Stolman where he lives and he might answer: "Seat 4F." Stolman has homes in his three favorite cities: New York, Palm Beach, Fla., and Wauwatosa. This Connecticut native and his partner, Brookfield native Rich Wilkie, divide their time equally among the three. "This crazy globe-trotting lifestyle is driven not only by our jobs but also by our families," he says. Wilkie’s family is in Wauwatosa and Stolman’s family is in Palm Beach. When in Milwaukee, Stolman and Wilkie love to shop at the Metcalf’s Sentry, Puhl’s hardware, hang out at Elsa’s on Friday nights and catch a niece’s or nephew’s weekend soccer game.

 

Dan Van Rite, Hinterland executive chef

Local foodies should consider themselves lucky to have Dan Van Rite back in town. Born in Green Bay, he studied architecture at UW-Milwaukee, attended culinary school in Portland and worked at Hinterland Green Bay. After that he worked as a private chef for a New Jersey family. When he later heard that Hinterland would open a second location on Erie Street, he was intrigued: "I really liked Milwaukee when I was here so I decided to take the opportunity." Van Rite appreciates the collaborative attitude within the local restaurant community. "It’s a great community for chefs," he says. "We share ideas and support each other."

 

Mark Clements, Milwaukee Repertory artistic director

After 15-plus years as artistic director of England’s Derby Theater, Mark Clements knew he found something special with The Rep. "The Rep is regarded as one of the jewels in the country’s regional theater crown. We’re lucky to have an organization like the United Performing Arts Fund that raises money solely to support the performing arts." Clements and his wife love the local dining scene. "We have our favorite restaurants like Crazy Water, Sanfords and Kil@wat.

"I’m discovering as a first-time father that Milwaukee’s a good place to bring children up — there’s a lot to be happy and grateful for."


This story ran in the August 2013 issue of: