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Milwaukee's Restaurant Scene Is Booming - But Why?

New Zealand Defence Force

Considering the challenging economy of the past few years, Lake Effect contributor Kyle Cherek might have some surprising news: Milwaukee’s new local restaurant scene is booming.

Cherek is host and a producer of Wisconsin Foodie on PBS and a writer and blogger on the local food movement. He says Milwaukee is bucking the trend in that several heralded restaurants have opened here in just the last couple of years.

"As far as I can tell we have opened the most restaurants in the last three years of any city, exempting San Francisco, New York, L.A. and like a Phoenix/Scottsdale," he says.

Cherek has based this assertion on anecdotal evidence he's collected in speaking with restaurant associations and in-the-know foodies in other cities Milwaukee's size. But he says his point can also be seen just by looking in his own backyard.

"I mean, I’ve lived in Walker’s Point for 17 years, and when I moved in, I was just happy to get a gas station," he says. "Now you can essentially get some of the best food in the entire city." Kyle Cherek

He says Walker's Point and the edge of the Third Ward has become a culinary hub - and he knows of three more restaurants he can't name that will be opening in that area soon.

Kyle Cherek
Credit David Larson
Kyle Cherek

Cherek says the area is so popular because it's where chefs have said they could get affordable space.

"If you're a chef and you've been moving through all the rungs of evolution, you know, it's like anybody, eventually you want to own your own place and hang your own shingle, and cook the food that you want to cook and place it against the public's imagination and see if it works," he says.

Plus, in the next few months, Cherek says new restaurants like Blue Jacket in Walker's Point, Karen Bell's Bavette Butcher Shop, and Gouda on Water Street will open their doors to diners.

He credits the surge in restaurants to the dynamic culinary schools in the area; Milwaukee's is accredited at a level shared with only seven other culinary schools nationwide. Cherek says great training provided by a number of the city's top restaurant groups is also creating a talent pipeline of chefs with the skills, but perhaps not the experience.

"When you have that kind of bubbling up, these little places are going to soak up that talent, and they're going to cultivate them and then we're going to have all these great little, as we do, restaurants," he says.

Cherek also writes a regular column for Milwaukee Magazine’s website.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.