Tall Guy and a Grill Catering emerges stronger from pandemic, raises tide for local entrepreneurs 

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In the early-morning hours of July 4, 2021, Dan Nowak awoke to the sound of knocking. There was a police officer at his door, alerting him of every business owner’s worst nightmare: A fire had broken out at the West Allis building that houses Nowak’s catering company Tall Guy and a Grill. 

“It’s one of those incredulous things you think could never happen to you, I was like, ‘What do you means there’s a fire?’” said Nowak. “I hop in the car with my wife, and we (drove) over, and there were four or five fire trucks, eight or nine squad cars, police officers everywhere; it was just like a movie scene.” 

Luckily, the building at 6735 W. Lincoln Ave. is located just blocks away from a fire station, where the fire chief happened to be working late. Within 30 minutes of him seeing smoke, the fire was extinguished, and the damage was largely contained to a back corner of the building. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but what matters most is that no one was hurt, said Nowak. 

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Within a few of hours, power inside the building was restored, gas was turned back on and the kitchen – its cooking equipment and entire stock of cold food products – passed the city’s health inspection, allowing the Tall Guy team to cater all five of the weddings it had booked the very next weekend. 

“The great thing was that our team came together,” said Nowak. “… but that’s the nature of off-site catering, we’re always having to kind of roll with the punches with weather and things like that.”

It took about four months for crews to fully restore and repair the damaged portions of Tall Guy’s building. Meanwhile, the caterer was still recovering from the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw sales plummet 50% in 2020. 

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But none of that stopped Nowak and his team from moving forward. 

Since last July, Tall Guy’s sister brand, traveling wood-fired pizza concept Flour Girl & Flame expanded into its own West Allis production space and recently launched Everyone’s Ice Cream, a shop serving a collection of locally produced ice cream; Tall Guy’s liquor license was spun off into The Crafted Tavern, a mobile bar that serves batched cocktails at weddings and private events; and Tall Guy was contracted as the exclusive caterer at The Starling, a new event venue by Two Birds Event Group in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. 

The birth of three new concepts in the span of two years ultimately led to one of Nowak’s biggest moves yet. In June, he launched Brazen Standard Hospitality, giving a name to the family of brands that all started from his original farm-to-table catering business. The group includes Tall Guy and a Grill, Flour Girl & Flame, The Crafted Tavern and Everyone’s Ice Cream, together with a total of 80 to 90 part- and full-time employees. 

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The creation of Brazen Standard allows labor and product to be shared more efficiently across the four brands, while offering customers more ways to customize the food and beverage experience at their event. 

“We have a wedding coming up at The Starling and half the menu is Tall Guy food, and then they also want a (Flour Girl & Flame) pizza station,” said Nowak. 

On a broader scale, Nowak sees the growth of his business as an opportunity to give other entrepreneurs a leg up – especially now. 

“Something I’ve always been passionate about is supporting other local businesses, and that’s something we’ve done at Tall Guy since day one, but I think now that we’ve grown into these other realms, we can start supporting even more local companies,” he said. “2020 through this year has really shown a spotlight on how important it is to support local, independent businesses and how many great people are out there working super hard. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you’re seeing a lot of these artisan producers popping up and you’re hearing all of these things about ‘The Great Resignation’ or leaving corporate jobs. … People are following their passions.”

The business model of Everyone’s Ice Cream – championed by Tall Guy’s executive chef and Flour Girl & Flame founder Dana Spandet – rides on the back of well-established local names like Purple Door and Scratch as well as up-and-comers Sweet Tooth Grin, which launched on a small scale in 2020, and Liv a Little, a vegan creamery that started up in 2019. 

For Sweet Tooth owner Jamie Hazelwood and Liv a Little owner Liv Menzia, being a part of the ice cream collective has taken business to the next level – and then some. 

“It goes beyond just having them have my ice cream there,” said Hazelwood. “It’s great for brand recognition, and I’ve certainly gotten a lot of business from that, … but it’s giving that behind-the-scenes (look) as well and has really helped me as far as how to properly get licensed, taxes and all that kind of stuff.”

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