Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:24 pm
It’s exactly the type of building you’d expect to find in Walker’s Point.
Faded strokes of paint on the converted two-story warehouse’s brick exterior still spell out the name “Badger Mirror Co.,” a glass manufacturer that hasn’t inhabited it since 1942.
For different stretches over the past 103 years, it has housed multiple manufacturing operations and a knitting company. Its earliest tenant, R.E. Locher & Scheffrin Co., was described as a “dealer in rags, rubber, metals and other waste materials” in a May 4, 1918 issue of a now-defunct trade publication called “The Waste Trade Journal.”
Aside from well-tended trees and bushes lining its walls and the handsome wooden staircase leading to its front door at 500 S. Third St., it blends into the stock of brick industrial buildings speckled throughout the neighborhood that are either undergoing or awaiting renovation.
But since 2014, it’s been home to a private event venue that’s gaining traction among local businesses.
The Chef’s Table, which bills itself as “Milwaukee’s only private, personalized dining experience,” has earned a small following over the past two years for a unique service: personalized business dinners that allow clients to connect with guests, discuss sensitive business issues and relax with a meal in a private setting.
The space is rich in unique personal touches. Many of its most impressive pieces were handcrafted by the owner and chef, David Magnasco — the long, southern yellow pine table made from one of the building’s former walls, the stained glass windows behind the bar, the chandelier made from an old pot and pan rack.
Magnasco has hosted birthday parties and rehearsal dinners, and has sold tickets to themed dinners, but found an untapped niche in small corporate events for as few as two and as many as 34 people.
“There’s plenty of great places in Milwaukee you can go out to eat; we have an awesome food scene here,” Magnasco said.
But when company leaders want to rent out space at a restaurant for a board meeting or to impress clients, he explained, “typically you’re in a back room with divider walls and usually there aren’t any windows and you’re still sharing the common space of the restaurant with other patrons.”
Magnasco, who has years of experience working for restaurants in Milwaukee and abroad, decided to become somewhat of an outsourced in-house chef for local companies by hosting private, personalized business dinners at his building.
“We have a host out front greeting everybody and when everyone’s here, we lock the doors,” Magnasco said. “We have nothing else going on and it’s all about them. They’re at the center table, they have windows, they’ve got the bar to themselves. There’s a men’s room and a ladies room and a garden area in the back. They’ve got the entire space to themselves.”
He makes an effort to know his clients well. He does research on them and their guests and personally guides them through each course he prepares.
“They can have a good meal, they can talk about sensitive stuff and if they’d like to stay and hang out at the bar, they don’t have to worry as much about their actions as they would in a public place,” Magnasco said. “We wanted it to be an extension of our home. We’re inviting you into our house. And we are. We live upstairs.”
Magnasco lives with his wife and daughter in a loft-style apartment on the second floor of the building. The meals he cooks at each event are tailored to the guests. Before their event, he sits down with clients to discuss their likes and dislikes, while also educating them on which types of foods are best to include depending on the time of year — he rarely uses out-of-season ingredients.
“It allows me to go out and shop and forage and spend more time gathering the ingredients for the dinner and then also pairing the wine to it,” he said.
Magnasco doesn’t disclose the names of his clients unless they give him permission. He jokingly referred to himself as the Switzerland of the Milwaukee culinary scene. But representatives from Milwaukee Tool said the company has reserved The Chef’s Table for business dinners on multiple occasions – and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.
“Whether we have a group of 12 or 20, the attention to every detail has been well thought out and organized,” said Milwaukee Tool senior executive assistant Gin Melotte. “Yet Chef David and his team are also extremely agile when dinner times slip due to late arrivals, etc. It’s mesmerizing to watch the chef and his team at work for an event. There is clearly a synergy that can only be found with great leadership.”
The Chef’s Table hosts about three events per week. Magnasco hopes he can eventually bring the average up to five.
“We’re not looking to flood the market,” he said. “We want it to be secretive, in a way. When you see the building from the exterior, it’s very unassuming. It looks like a warehouse, just like every other building around us. But when they walk in through that threshold, people just go, ‘Wow, this is incredible; I had no idea this was here.’”