Malcolm McDowell Woods
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By - Jul 1st, 2009 12:01 am
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sweetwaterorganicsSweet Water Organics is a commercial enterprise that is taking root in one of Milwaukee’s ever-growing entrepreneurial neighborhoods. Located in a once abandoned factory building near the Kinnickinnic River in Bay View, three partners have joined forces to piggy-back and build upon Will Allen’s successful aquaculture farming of tilapia and perch. With wild caught fish fast disappearing and the need for a continued supply of edible small fish for local restaurants, a built-in market is out there.

The dream of an urban aquaculture center began with Josh Fraundorf, Steve Linder and James Godsil, and the guidance and support came from Fred Binkoeski and the team of the Great Lakes Water Institute, supported by the Sea Grant Foundation in partnership with Growing Power. Although James Godsil is the contact person and the usual point man, he insists that he’s a minor partner. He sees himself as someone who connects people and resources. After being on the board of Growing Power and becoming excited about the potential for people to take back their ability to grow their own food, he jumped at the chance to take a role in the new project.

The weaving of ideas, partnership and possibilities seems to have started when Linder purchased the old Harneshfaeger building at 2151 S. Robinson to be rented out as warehouse space. Fraundorf and Godsil owned Community Roofing and began renting a small space in the 6.5 acre complex of ancient buildings off Lincoln Avenue. As Linder’s largest tenant found it harder to pay the rent because of the economic downturn, the idea began to gel for the three friends to take a leap of faith and do something about meeting the continuous need for fresh fish for Milwaukee’s traditional Friday night fare.

There were many challenges to making their dream come true. Technical assistance has been given by Professor Michael Swedish and his MSOE engineering students, as well as the Aquatic Network Information Center, but leaky roofs and 10- inch rough concrete floors need more than ideas, encouragement and volunteers. To transform the huge main building, heavy cutting machinery was rented to cut through the floors to begin the process of building water raceways four feet below the surface. Recycled wood was gathered to support the walls of the trenches where heavy plastic will line the raceways. New windows replaced the tired ones that obscured the light. The next big expense will be heating and lighting the building so that the atmosphere will support the plants and fish. Eventually, it is hoped that solar power will be used to provide the energy needed.

The closed system will feature plants on top of soil and pea gravel or volcanic rock to cleanse the water as it filters back to the fish raceways far below the surface. When this step has proved itself, thousands of Tilapia from Americulture in New Mexico will be delivered to their new home in the raceways. (The entire process is being documented by Emmanuel Pratt and pictures can be seen on www.sweetwater-organic.com.)

Besides being able to harvest adult fish in nine months for area restaurants, the partners envision an entire community surrounding the project with a zero carbon footprint. They would like to acquire additional acreage to build permanent housing as well as dormitories for students of all ages who will come to learn about urban aquaculture. There is to be a co-op café and grocery store, as well as a farmer’s market available.

Tilapia, perch and blue gill are all suited to this type of enclosed environment, but each need their own sets of temperatures and growing times. With luck, the trio foresees the fish being in the raceways by August. With large restaurants (such as Serb Hall) consuming 2,000 lbs of fish per week, and a charge of $5.95 per pan sized Tilapia, it is easy to see the potential for this new enterprise to be quite profitable.

But it’s not just their success the partners are interested in – by having a training institute established, Sweet Water Organics hopes to show farmers with empty barns how they too, can invest as little as $1,500 in building materials to become fish farmers. The inclusion of the talents of artists, architects, builders and dreamers are all part of the ever growing tapestry of possibilities at Sweet Water Organics.

– Cheri Yarborough

When recession hits, household budgets get massaged, and entertainment allowances are the first to go. More people eat at home when times are lean, reserving that restaurant table for truly special occasions. So it’s somewhat heartening to note that even as the economy has plunged, foodie entrepreneurs have been willing to take the plunge themselves, and hang out their shingle.

We took a quick look (no dessert) at some of the new restaurants in town.

Wauwatosa

juniper4

The walnut and beet salad at Juniper 61 in Wauwatosa. Liz Setterfield photo.

At 61st and North, you will find Juniper 61, the new venture of Cameryne Roberts and Sarah Jonas, the team behind Café Lulu in Bay View. The location has housed a few eateries, the most recent being Shiraz, but this time it has been on the receiving end of some interior décor upgrades. A hip tree motif runs throughout, and the modern, earthy colors and wooden hues create a warm environment.

Some critics have commented that the acoustics leave a lot to be desired, and we found that to be true also, but the place was jumping on a Wednesday evening when we dropped in, so it doesn’t appear to be keeping customers at bay.

A few appetizers have leapt from the page of the Lulu menu and the specials seem to be fairly special. On our visit, we opted for pasta primavera and a walnut-beet salad because we’re vegetarians. We were not disappointed.

Judging by word-of-mouth and media reviews, business is very brisk indeed. Roberts and Jonas appear to have found a winning recipe, so hopefully this shingle will hang around for a good long time.

A little west, and into downtown Wauwatosa, you’ll find La Rêve, whose desserts live up to the name of the place … definitely dreamy. This French-style bistro opened in May 2008 and has received rave reviews as well as some damp ones. As long as the owners iron out any wrinkles (and they appear to be iron-out-able), we see no reason for La Rêve to remain a village feature. The interior certainly has that French bistro flavor, with its dark woods and crisp white linen. Black and white photographs of Paris lend a touch of charm and a little cliché, but the exterior is all class and beautifully complements the windy …’Tosa village area.

Some construction across the street alerts one to the pending arrival of another place to eat, and word has it that Café Hollander will occupy the space, nestled next to existing Bartolotta’s, Noodles & Co., and the Chancery. Hollander is a familiar name to eastsiders who have been enjoying their Belgian beers and frites on Downer Ave. patio for some years.

North Shore

Another link between …’Tosa and the east side – a …’Tosa trio has made its way across town to the struggling Silver Spring strip in Whitefish Bay. There, they have opened up a new eatery that has the north shore people almost kissing their feet in gratitude. So many doors have closed along that stretch of road (Heinemann’s being one) that it’s no surprise that Berkeley’s was welcomed with open arms by its community. The people behind Wauwatosa’s Firefly Bar & Grill and Gracious Catering are the ones brave enough to try this spot, even as construction has the road torn up and drivers diverted.

The food is described as bar and grill with a Californian flavor, and the management have been relying on their “Whitefish Bay Stimulus Package” drink specials to keep the guests coming in until the economy bounces back and the orange cones roll away. The fresh, modern décor is a nice change of pace for Whitefish Bay.

A little bit west of Berkeley’s hip interior is a place much more down-to-earth, and with a name reminiscent of a television sitcom. Five Guys recently opened its doors a few steps from Bayshore Mall’s square, and is now happily serving up burgers and fries to hungry shoppers.

Downtown

For more burgers and fries, you can head downtown to AJ Bombers. Another location that has had many names above its door, Bombers now belongs to Joe and Angie Sorge, who surely know what they’re doing because they are the owners of Swig and Water Buffalo. Bombers is not the sophisticated eatery, however; it’s a place where you’ll find peanut shells underfoot, and cartoonish WWII-style bombs whizzing overhead to deliver said peanuts to your table, via an overhead chute. A gimmick? Sure, but since when did that hurt business? We think it worth mentioning that the owners included vegetarian burgers in their menu, and excluded cigarette smoke from their air.

Bay View

Noticing a common theme among these new businesses? The owners aren’t new to the game at all. Another case in point: Honeypie on KK, the new baby of Scott Johnson, the name behind Fuel café, Comet Café, Balzac, Palomino and Hi Hat Garage. In partnership with Leslie Montemurro and Comet’s Adam and Val Lucks, Johnson opened the doors on this comfort food haven in May.

West

In the City of Delafield, four new foodie businesses have opened up. One of them is a Jimmy John’s, so you could argue it’s not a restaurant, but it’s a business and it serves food, and it’s good for Delafield, so it’s good enough for this story. On the site of the former White Oak Grill, you can now find Anderson’s Pub & Grill. Jessica’s Café is now Mazatlan and the Gathering Restaurant is now Pacific Bistro. Musical restaurants, anyone?

We may have missed a few new spots; our story is the result of an informal survey of our Outpost colleagues (food lovers all). Mostly, we’re just heartened to see that scary headlines and bottom lines haven’t dampened the entrepreneurial spirit of Milwaukee area restaurateurs, and the customers are still coming.

Another round

Other new names shouted out during an Outpost staff survey:

Kiku: Japanese cuisine and sushi, with a tough address for a restaurant; 202 W. Wisconsin Ave., downtown.

La Dolce Vita: Mediterranean fare on Farwell.

Barbiere’s Italian Inn: Good old pizza in South Milwaukee, 1021 Milwaukee Ave.

Sonic drive-In: Across the street from the Miller park area Target. Rollerskates!

Byron’s Beer Garden: Yaffa café changed name and menu and now serves American grill dishes.

– Liz Setterfield

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