Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:24 pm
For six years, Hans Weissgerber III, whose company, Weissgerber Group, owns and operates the Old German Beer Hall on Old World 3rd Street, sent proposals to the county outlining his plans to operate a classic, Bavarian-style beer garden in a public park.
For six years, the proposals were rejected.
Then in 2012, Weissgerber’s idea to combine Milwaukee’s German heritage with a growing cultural enthusiasm for beer and the county’s “Emerald Necklace” of parks, finally took hold.
The county showed interest, and eventually struck a deal.
“We had built the Old German Beer Hall and we modeled that around the very simple concept of a Bavarian beer hall,” Weissgerber said. “So we saw how the community embraced this idea of coming into a place, sitting down at a table with strangers, and making friends with people of all walks of lives, all kinds of backgrounds — everyone just kind of coming in and hanging out together. I also looked at all the financial challenges our county has in maintaining the parks and I saw an opportunity for us to provide another venue for this sort of populist camaraderie and also generate revenue for the county.”
The modern Milwaukee beer garden was born; first at Estabrook Park overlooking the Milwaukee River, then at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa and Humboldt Park in Bay View.
In 2015, there were four permanent beer gardens, two traveling beer gardens and one 12-day “pop-up” beer garden operating in county parks.
If sales keep trending upward, the park system’s beer garden experiment is on its way to becoming a cash cow for the county.
The county’s cut of food and beverage sales negotiated through its different contracts with each beer garden vendor totaled $991,263 in 2015, more than double its take from 2014 — $417,917.
Each of the county’s contracts with vendors stipulate that the county gets to keep a certain percentage of food and beverage sales revenue. It ranges from 10 to 20 percent. Some of its contracts also include language that requires vendors deposit a percentage of sales revenue into an account earmarked for park improvements.
“Ultimately, you know that of every dollar that you spend there, 20 cents is going right back into the community,” Weissberger said of the beer gardens. “I think, with all of those principles, it doesn’t surprise me that it has turned into what it is. It’s what people need more of.”
St. Francis Brewing Company, which operates the beer garden in Humboldt Park in Bay view, hopes sales will double in 2016.
“To be outside in public in a park with a big huge stein of beer, there just seems to be a thrill about it,” said Nick Dillon, St. Francis Brewing Company operations manager.
There has been discussion about expanding into even more Milwaukee County parks, and proposals are being considered for 2016 and 2017 said Joe Mrozinski, assistant chief of recreation & business development for the parks department. Weissgerber said he would consider opening another beer garden in a Milwaukee park if the conditions were right.
“(The beer gardens have) been an excellent asset to the parks department,” he said. “It’s not only created a new revenue stream for the parks, but also, we always say a busy park is a safe park, so we’ve actually seen decreased vandalism and decreased incidents.”