Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm
Restaurant honoring African-Americans finally opens doors after development dispute
Yesterday’s Heroes, a new, family-style restaurant, opened its doors on Nov. 30 after almost two years of renovation and legal complications.
The restaurant, at 3433 W. Vliet St., is housed in an historic, former Pabst Brewery-owned tavern that was built in 1907. It features American, New Orleans and Southern cuisines, and is open for lunch and dinner.
Yesterday’s Heroes’ theme is to showcase the African-American “heroes” of Milwaukee. It is operating in partnership with the Lisbon Avenue Neighborhood Development Corp. (LAND).
The restaurant features facts and framed photos of many of Milwaukee African-American “firsts,” such as the first African-American citizen, police officer, elected official and registered business owner, to name a few.
Yesterday’s Heroes was funded through a partnership with LAND and has had significant contributions from the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, Firstar Bank, Harley-Davidson Foundation, Helen Bader Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), M&I Bank, Milwaukee County, and Wisconsin Gas-Wisconsin Energy Foundation.
The project was marred by controversy when the original developers and building renovators, Global Engineering Technologies, refused to agree to final lease terms with LAND, which owns the building. Global’s owners, Shonda Biddle Williams and J. W. Ewing, were putting the finishing touches on a restaurant called Yesterday’s League last December when the dispute arose.
Yesterday’s League came from an idea Biddle Williams had after talking with her uncle, a former Negro League baseball player. The restaurant was decorated with old-time photos and memorabilia from the Negro League. Biddle Williams said in an interview with SBT (Dec. 8, 2000) that a portion of the restaurant’s food sales and souvenir sales would be donated to a pension fund set up for the former Negro League players.
At the time of the dispute, LAND CEO Darryl Johnson said that Global had not paid subcontractors and other vendors who helped renovate and furnish the restaurant.
While Biddle Williams could not comment directly on the dispute that left Global locked out of the restaurant, she was frustrated by the new restaurant using so much of the Yesterday’s League name and concept. Even the cuisine offerings are similar.
“We’re extremely frustrated because they basically took our name and wanted to get the publicity that the name generated,” Biddle Williams said. “It’s extremely frustrating that they didn’t come up with their own concept for it.
“We still believe in the restaurant (Yesterday’s League) and we still have the support of the players and all those that were interested in what we were doing,” Biddle Williams, said. “Our goal is to still do that.”
Global has received numerous phone calls from well-wishers after they heard the restaurant had opened, according to Biddle Williams.
“People still believe it’s our restaurant,” she said.
Johnson, of LAND, said he came up with the new restaurant’s name and concept, but admitted that he springboarded off of the Yesterday’s League concept.
“We felt it would still be a good way to highlight and bring to the forefront African-American people who have really helped to build Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin,” Johnson said. “And I think the Negro Baseball League was kind of confining, so that’s where the whole idea was to expand it and look at all African-American people. We wanted to have a broader appeal to the general public.”
Johnson also said the possibility remains that Yesterday’s Heroes may highlight Negro League players or league developers.
“I tell you it’s crazy,” Biddle Williams said of the new restaurant’s name and theme. “Why not have a different name? If you’re coming clean with everything and things are moving forward, if you feel it’s going to work, then come up with your own identity for it. It’s obviously, obviously a play off of what we did.”
Dec. 7, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee