Gruenewald says she has always been a hard worker. Her first real job
was as an entrepreneur, starting her own cleaning business in Racine.
After a few years, she moved to Milwaukee to take another job for a
company that introduced her to the restaurant business. When Roots
restaurant opened in Riverwest in 2004, she became the firm’s
Her life was
barreling along until August 2009. Gruenewald, who had been adopted
along with her three sisters as a child, learned about a baby girl who
needed a mother. Because of the circumstances surrounding the baby’s
birth, and the agreement of the birth mother, she was able to adopt
the baby quickly. When her boyfriend suggested they get married so he
could be the little girl’s father, she couldn’t have been more
later, while at work, Gruenewald began to experience a pounding
headache and severe nausea. She managed to get back home, take a nap
and make dinner.
that I started complaining about how bright the room was and how loud
the TV was," she recalls.
She and her
boyfriend, a paramedic, thought it was just a bad headache — until
she couldn’t feel the entire right side of her body. At the age of
34, and with a new baby to care for, Gruenewald was having a massive
stroke. Eighty percent of her brain was involved.
remember much about the next two to three months, but when she began
to recover, she started looking for answers.
smoked, never did drugs," she says. "I thought, ‘I’m so
young, this is so stupid.’ I got very determined. I thought, ‘What
am I supposed to learn from this?’"
She learned how
to bring herself back from the brink, refusing traditional
rehabilitative services. She says she just felt that the brain is a
muscle, and she could figure out how to retrain it and make it strong
"I had to
learn how to read again and I had to learn how to think again,"
her own flashcards and did her own brain exercises. Step by step, she
began to heal.
She lost most of
the vision in her right eye and still has some numbness in her
extremities, she says. She can sometimes struggle with short-term
memory: "I retrained my brain to say, ‘Remember this.’ I keep
saying to myself, ‘Be here now.’"
She began to
exercise regularly and, as a result, lost some weight. She continued
to exercise her brain. And she resolved to eat better.
"I knew if
I took care of those three things, the rest would follow," she
That was four
years ago. Gruenewald says the stroke may have been one of the
"greatest things that ever happened to me, because it woke me
Gruenewald insists that improving the quality of the food she eats is
what helps keep her healthy.
why I’m obsessed with the food here," she explains.
"Here" is the Wolf Peach restaurant, in the former Roots
building at 1818 N. Hubbard St., Milwaukee.
closed in September 2012, Gruenewald, who had been Roots’ bookkeeper
until the last day, scrambled to reopen the doors with help from
developer Tim Dixon.
closing was heartbreaking for me. It was heartbreaking for everybody
here," she says.
As she and Dixon
discussed the options, they realized she could be the restaurant’s
new owner. A loan from the Small Business Administration helped her
launch the new venture.
"We did it
in six weeks. We had to. I didn’t want to lose my crew," she
Roots was one of
the original "farm to table" restaurants, before
"local," "seasonal" and "sustainable"
became a national dining movement. Gruenewald’s Wolf Peach, which
features rustic European cuisine, continues to use ingredients that
meet those criteria.
it well; we do it even better," she says. "We have a
six-acre farm on Tim Dixon’s land in Sheboygan County, and my
sister, Natalya, is the farmer." This summer, she expects to have
15 varieties of fresh tomatoes on the menu.
served in the "Como Viene" style, which means they are
brought to the table just as soon as they are ready to eat.
you get the food as it comes," Gruenewald says. "What I love
about that is it’s the exact same way I look at life — as it’s
ready. There’s a sense of sharing, a sense of ‘keep it coming.’"