Sophie Bolich

Paper Table Has Plan to Address Double-Parking

But alders unsure how to enforce it, discuss a different license for food hall operators.

By - Apr 9th, 2024 06:26 pm
Paper Table sign. Photo taken Dec. 30, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Paper Table sign. Photo taken Dec. 30, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Paper Table is going back to the drawing board, following the departure of all but one of its vendors.

With more than a dozen kitchen spaces left to fill, the delivery-focused food hall is now recruiting a new slate of restaurant concepts to occupy the downtown building at 733-737 N. Milwaukee St.

But as the number of proposed vendors climbs, neighbors worry that instances of double-parking — an issue that has plagued the food hall since its opening — will also trend upwards.

During a recent meeting, the Milwaukee Common Council‘s Licenses Committee heard testimony from neighbors, one of whom called the parking “a safety issue.”

“I frequently get stuck behind delivery vehicles that are double-parked in front of Paper Table, so I’m forced to pull into oncoming traffic to get to my destination, sometimes around multiple double-parked vehicles,” James Cooney told the committee during the March 26 hearing.

He said that although the situation has improved slightly over the past few months, he worries that it will worsen again as new vendors join the food hall.

Joe Denother, a representative of Paper Table, outlined a plan of action to address the problem.

He said the company has installed indoor and outdoor signage to warn drivers against double-parking, and will soon begin in-person traffic monitoring during peak hours. Those who refuse to move their vehicles will be promptly reported to City of Milwaukee Traffic Enforcement. Paper Table also plans to install a traffic camera to monitor parking.

Next steps will include collaborating with neighbors to develop a long-term plan. Solutions could encompass additional loading zones, consolidating valet companies to a single side of the street, shared parking enforcement resources and consistent signage and messaging to customers and drivers, according to the plan.

While the committee agreed that the parking situation needs addressing, they struggled to decide on how best to enforce the plan of action. Under the city’s current licensing framework, each operator within the food hall holds its own license.

If the parking plan is attached to their license, an applicant could be held accountable for its implementation, even if the situation is out of their control. That raises questions of who is legally responsible if the double-parking continues.

Alderman Robert Bauman said that the issue might be solved with a new category of business license, specifically for food hall operators.

“We might consider a food hall license for the types of businesses that do exactly this,” he said. “Because I see potential trouble if this fills up, but we have no control other than holding individual vendors accountable.”

Denother also fielded questions about the recent exodus at Paper Table, which marks its third such overhaul since the food hall’s August 2022 opening.

In the span of less than two years, Paper Table has seen at least 20 small businesses come and go, along with seven more that attempted to open, but never did.

A number of former vendors have since accused the company of misleading practices, unfulfilled promises and unsatisfactory working conditions. Many said they were burdened with unexpected fees and forced to vacate the premises with little to no warning.

The near-constant turnover has left customers with plenty of questions, some of which arose during the hearing.

“There was an article that came out in regards to some of the challenges that your building faced, as far as with high rent, and it just wasn’t feasible for a lot of the operators to be sustainable within your food hall,” said Alderman Mark Chambers, Jr., who noted that he was a frequent visitor of the food hall until “everyone disappeared.”

“What changes have you made to ensure that these local small businesses can thrive within your model?”

Denother told Chambers that the company is “sensitive to past concerns raised by previous partners who were not successful at the facility.”

“Our business is to provide opportunity and accessibility to small businesses, and we are very transparent with the costs associated with signing an agreement with our business. We are working to attract more experienced individuals … as we move forward.”

One such business owner, Robert Meredith, was present alongside Denother at the hearing. Meredith, the owner of Yummy Bones BBQ, is preparing to open a second location for his restaurant at Paper Table.

The pair were also accompanied by Attorney Joshua Gimbel.

Denother said he’s confident in Meredith’s ability to operate a successful business at Paper Table, due to his past experience as a restaurant owner.

“Mr. Meredith has a track record, he has an existing brick and mortar, he is an experienced operator.”

Denother didn’t, however, note that many of Paper Table’s former vendors were also run by experienced business owners. That includes Blac Bistro, MilTex Kitchen, Po’Manz Food, Taste of Life Soul Food, Temple Goddess, Adonis Burger, Spice N Rice, Mochidon, Roku Ramen, No Bayou and others.

Paper Table is currently home to Wingstop, a national chain restaurant. Vendors proposed for the food hall include Yummy Bones BBQ, Matteo’s Cocina Express and Arepa’s Place.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee voted in favor of the license for Yummy Bones BBQ. The parking plan was added as an amendment to the business’s license, but that could change if the committee takes action to create the new license category.

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