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Restaurant row
Walker's Point has evolved into a foodie destination with a friendly atmosphere

Photos by Matt Haas

August  2015

One of the cityís founding neighborhoods, Walkerís Point, has evolved from its roots as an industrial area, filled with machine shops and warehouse spaces, to a neighborhood brimming with top notch restaurants and artisan food producers.

"Itís really the hottest dining destination in the city, as far as Iím concerned," says Jonathan Manyo, chef and owner of Morel Restaurant, which is celebrating its first anniversary this August.

Manyo says he looked at downtown and Bay View before deciding to purchase a building on Second Street. "What has really surprised me is that thereís been such a great amount of foot traffic, which is the best advertising for a restaurant," Manyo says. "The second surprise is how supportive chefs are of each otherís restaurants. We all promote each other to raise awareness of Walkerís Point as an entire area."

That area, or restaurant row as it is becoming known, is South Second Street and its environs, home to more than a dozen different chef and restaurateur-owned restaurants, not to mention more than half a dozen different food purveyors of ice cream, chocolate, beer, cheese and spirits. "The diversity here is just amazing," says Darnell Ashley, who opened up his second barbecue restaurant, Ashleyís Que, on the corner of Second Street and National Avenue just three years ago. "Suddenly, wherever you look, thereís a new restaurant or (food) store opening up."

But just a decade ago, Walkerís Point was kind of a food desert, and it was known more for its party bars and antique shops than its five star dining.

Enter Peggy Magister, who opened Crazy Water 13 years ago in the spot that used to house Zur Kroneís, a German tavern. "I didnít have the money, so I couldnít go just anywhere," Magister recalls, adding that she had visited a neighborhood in Chicago "where there were these little restaurants that had high-end food, but not the high-end atmosphere."

"This area was kind of grungy, but I knew I had to get out of Cedarburg, and there was this for rent sign so one thing led to another," says Magister, who lives in the neighborhood. "I just knew I had to act."

The only other high-end restaurant in the area was Chez Jacques, opened by French native Jacques Chaumet. Their success led other chefs and restaurateurs to follow. Peter Sandroni opened La Merenda in 2007, and then last year opened up Engine Company No. 3. Both eateries are on National Avenue.

But the restaurant corridor really started to take shape in 2011. Thatís when the Noble opened, Thomas Hauck opened c. 1880, and David Swanson opened his restaurant and cooking school version of Braise in the space Chez Jacques first operated (Swanson previously hosted farm dinners and other events elsewhere). "Five years ago, I didnít even consider Walkerís Point a food neighborhood ó thatís just how much the neighborhood has developed," says Jennifer Streicher, general manager of the Black Sheep tap wine bar and restaurant.

"The trend Iíve noticed when I take people on the Walkerís Point dine around tour is that people who have lived in the Milwaukee area their whole lives come on the tour and theyíre just blown away by what the neighborhood offers," says Teresa Nemetz, owner of Milwaukee Food and City Tours. "Ten years ago, it was desolate, but today itís so beautiful. Even two and a half or three years ago, Walkerís Point didnít have this high level of quality of restaurants or little shops."

Three shops that have made a big difference in the neighborhood, Nemetz says, are Purple Door Ice Cream, Clock Shadow Creamery and Indulgence Chocolatiers. "What has been really great about Purple Door is they started inside Clock Shadow Creamery, but theyíve done so well they were able to expand and build-out their own facility," Nemetz says. "Not only did they start in Walkerís Point, but theyíre staying there as they grow."

"The sense of community is just getting better all the time," says Bob Wills, who owns Clock Shadow Creamery. Wills says that local restaurants not only use his products, but theyíve all stepped up to help him when heís needed a hand.

Recently, he was grilling cheese for a neighborhood event, and the folks at Sazís Catering loaned him a grill to do it. Then, another neighbor came and delivered him a six-pack of beer from Milwaukee Brewing Company. "I tried to pay him for the beer, but the guy told me, ĎItís not right for somebody to be grilling without a beer,í" Wills says.

Milwaukee Brewing Company and Great Lakes Distillery made Walkerís Point their homes in 2008, the same year the Iron Horse Hotel opened. "Things were pretty limited then," says Guy Rehorst, owner of Great Lakes Distillery. "We moved here because the property was industrial-like, which was required for what I was doing, but I also liked the location because it was as close to downtown as you could get without having problems with parking." The ease of finding parking is still ó even with its tremendous growth ó an asset, Manyo says. "We rent the lot across the street," he adds.

Parking and industrial-like space continue to be draws in the beer and spirits world. Both Central Standard and Twisted Path distilleries have opened in Walkerís Point, as well as Brenner Brewing Company. Next year, Madisonís MobCraft Beer will open a Milwaukee location in the neighborhood.

"Frankly, when we had the idea to open a craft distillery, Walkerís Point was the only neighborhood in town we were focused on," says Evan Hughes, one of the founders of Central Standard. "Everybody in this neighborhood has an entrepreneurial spirit and is extremely creative. People are making a product because they love making it, because they love cooking really good food. Not to mention, everybody is nice down here."

The next step, many restaurateurs and chefs say, is to have more residential development and more retail. "Walkerís Point is one of the last few neighborhoods that is so close to downtown that has a lot of potential," says Justin Anthony, owner of AP Bar & Kitchen with Magister, his aunt. "We all want to see the neighborhood continue to develop and turn into something more."

Slowly, that has been happening, and one of the newest things developing right now is another boutique hotel and restaurant. Movida owners Aaron Gersonde and Andrei Mikhail are going to be opening a Spanish-themed hotel, with restaurant and bar on the corner of Bruce and Sixth Streets. "It has been absolutely wonderful to be here," Mikhail says. "Itís very, very humbling, and whatís most surprising is the great number of people from out of the city and out of state who find their way here. Itís very dynamic."


This story ran in the August 2015 issue of: