Something big is brewing on South Second Street in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, where a nondescript concrete block building will be transformed from an eyesore into an anchor destination for the neighborhood this spring.
The Milwaukee Brewing Co., which occupies the building at 613 S. Second St., is planning approximately $600,000 worth of aesthetic and structural improvements to the building, which should be complete by late summer.
When the project is complete, the 15,000-square-foot building will feature a 34-foot-high grain silo near its front entrance, large ceiling-to-floor glass windows, a second-floor mezzanine with a catwalk, a restaurant and tasting room, and more.
Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s goal for the project is to transform the building from just a manufacturing facility that brews thousands of barrels of beer into a regional destination for those who love beer and food.
In addition to the restaurant, the brewery plans to offer tours and both the restaurant and brewery will be available for special occasions.
“The brewery will be a huge focal point to get this neighborhood going,” said Jim McCabe, owner of the brewery and the Milwaukee Ale House, which has locations in the Third Ward and in Grafton.
The restaurant, which will be named Würst, will open by early June. It will be owned and operated by Richard Regner, who owns and manages Soup Bros. at 209 W. Florida St. in Walker’s Point, and will occupy about 3,000 square feet of space inside the brewery.
Soup Bros. will close when Würst opens. Regner hopes to re-open Soup Bros. in another location in several years.
At first glance, some may think that putting a restaurant inside the brewery, which is essentially a manufacturing facility, doesn’t make sense. However, it fits perfectly with the Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s philosophy, McCabe said.
Robert “Bert” Morton, head brewer at the brewery, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, one of the highest-regarded culinary schools in the country.
“That’s how we differentiate ourselves, with our food-focused flavors and the fact that we’re the smallest microbrewery in Milwaukee,” McCabe said.
Würst will feature a large bar with additional seating at tables and on a second floor mezzanine and catwalk, will offer sausages, cheeses, sandwiches and soups similar to what Regner currently offers at Soup Bros.
“We’re going to run a wide gamut, but we’ll also have traditional sausages and lots of different condiments,” Regner said. “I have a couple of semi-retired sausage makers, and I’m hoping they’ll come in and make some stuff for us. And we’ll have condiments like stout-soaked cherries and soft goat cheeses that we’ll put on brats or other veal sausages.”
McCabe and Regner have talked for more than a year about co-locating inside the same facility. The conversation started simply. If McCabe was going to have a restaurant inside his brewery, he would need a third party to operate it because Wisconsin law only allows a brewer to hold two liquor licenses if they want to be able to produce large amounts of beer.
However, the pair quickly realized they could do something unique by bringing their two operations under one roof.
“When they started building this place – I’m only two blocks away – I would see them grilling hot dogs and hamburgers at the end of the day,” Regner said. “It’s a natural thing – sausages and cheese and beer.”
That natural connection led Regner and McCabe to pick the Würst name. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to Milwaukee’s German heritage and the city’s ongoing love of sausages.
Regner and McCabe recently acquired a large walk-in oven formerly used by the now closed Heinemann’s chain of restaurants. When it is installed in the Würst space, Regner will bake all of the bread for his restaurant, as well as the Milwaukee and Grafton Ale Houses.
The second floor mezzanine seating and catwalk, a removable wall that will separate the brewery from the restaurant while work is being done, and other improvements will make the restaurant and brewery into a unique dining experience, Regner said.
“I get excited just talking about it,” he said. “It’s going to have a dynamic, energetic feel to it.”
Part of the mezzanine is designed to stretch in front of a 34-foot high grain silo that will be installed later this summer. The grain silo will replace one of the brewery’s garage doors. The ceiling above it will be removed and new exterior walls will be built around it, creating an atrium around the silo. The mezzanine is designed to go outside the building, where patrons will be able to see South Second Street from above, McCabe said.
While it will create an interesting architectural affect, the silo is also being installed for practical purposes.
“The main ingredient in beer is malted barley,” McCabe said. “We’re now handling a lot of bags, but as we grow we’re going to use truckloads of the stuff. The nice thing about having it in that location will be that it will create a sort of atrium effect when you walk in.”
Work on the building’s façade will begin in mid-July, at the same time as city crews begin planned structural and aesthetic improvements to South Second Street (see accompanying story). The street project is scheduled to start after Summerfest has finished.
McCabe is talking with the Milwaukee Department of City Development about potential city funding of some portions of the improvement project.
“This neighborhood is in the crosshairs. It’s got a lot of focus on it between the Reed Street (Yards property), Rockwell Automation and the improvements to Second Street,” he said. “I know that the city is excited about us as a public focal point. And the city has an interest in (improving) the ugliest building on the street. We’ve got that going for us.”
The revitalized Milwaukee Brewing Co. facility will become more of a destination later this month, not just because of its aesthetic improvements. McCabe will soon begin offering brewery tours and displays of historic brewing memorabilia.
The tours, set to begin at the end of March, will be held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The brewery will hold one tour on late Friday afternoons and two tours on Saturdays and Sundays.
“And depending on interest, one of the Sunday tours might be in German language,” McCabe said.
The Milwaukee Brewing Co. is already thinking of expanding its tour schedule. McCabe is considering adding daily tours during Happy Hour once Würst is open.
The tour will include information about ingredients and the brewing process, but McCabe also plans to highlight the brewery’s flexibility and ability to experiment while brewing.
“We can get into how we differentiate ourselves with our food-focused flavors or being the smallest microbrewery in Milwaukee who has the fun ability to pop out different flavors every week,” he said. “I think Milwaukee’s palate is ready for that.”
McCabe said the tour at Milwaukee Brewing Co. will highlight the equipment used because much of it has been sourced from local manufacturers.
“One of the messages will be about the importance of manufacturing. We use suppliers like Rockwell (Automation) and Rite-Hite,” he said. “We want people to leave with the message, ‘Go make some stuff.’ Milwaukee is in a renaissance of both brewing and manufacturing. People just don’t realize it yet.”
The renovated brewery will also feature a continually-changing exhibit of historical items from Milwaukee’s brewing past. The exhibit will include items owned by McCabe and his employees, and may also include some items owned by members of the Museum of Beer and Brewing, a Milwaukee nonprofit dedicated to preserving brewing history.
“We have our own stuff, and if (the museum) is in when we’re ready, we’ll have them,” McCabe said.
A portion of the tour will also discuss some of the “green” initiatives that the Milwaukee Brewing Co. uses in its production. For example, the brewery makes its own biodiesel from used cooking oil from its Milwaukee and Grafton Ale House facilities, as well as some of the smaller restaurants in its neighborhood.
The biodiesel is burned in one of the brewery’s boilers. It then generates hot water and steam which is used to brew beer and heat the facility. Employees make a little more than 100 gallons of biodiesel every Monday, which is used every Tuesday.
“When you look at our energy bill, you can see a big difference from one year before,” McCabe said.