6 Milwaukee Artisanal Makers to Watch

Some are exploring new territory while others are pushing the boundaries of products that we’re known for (say cheese!). But all of these entrepreneurs are adding to the texture of industry in our city.



Paloma Wilder

Paloma Wilder got her start making props for local theater companies. “At the end of a show, we would disassemble the projects and put them back into stock,” she says.

Eventually, Wilder realized that she wanted to start creating pieces that would last a little longer than the length of a show. Like an entire lifetime. So she apprenticed as a silversmith, and then a goldsmith. Now she works full-time from her Riverwest studio space, crafting one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry that blend historic and contemporary design elements.

Wilder regularly makes custom engagement rings for brides looking for something a little less traditional than a white diamond solitaire ring. And she loves taking on other custom jobs for clients too: “Let’s cast a piece of gold that someone might marvel at over 500 years from now,” Wilder says.

Milwaukee Candle Co.

Kevin Goudzwaard knows that people tend to associate specific smells with the places they love. So the local entrepreneur thought it’d be fun to create candles that reminded him of some of his favorite Milwaukee experiences. “I thought of Bradford Beach and my first time going there, and how awful it smelled,” he jokes. “And then how I went back two months later, and it smelled like a beach should.” The memory inspired the first product in his Hometown Collection, a soy candle with top notes of dune grass and daisy petals.

A few other standouts in the same collection? Jazzmine in the Park (jasmine, plus musk and sandalwood). State Fair (cinnamon, sweet sugar, vanilla). And Brewery Tour (malt, fruit).

In recent months, Goudzwaard has also been working on Glassnote Candle Bar, a studio space – where visitors can make and scent their own candles – slated to open soon in Walker’s Point.

Clock Shadow Creamery

Opening a creamery in Wisconsin is a little like opening a bagel shop in New York. You’ve got to be able to compete with the best of the best.

But Bob Wills, who founded Clock Shadow Creamery in 2012, was confident that he could do just that. Long before setting up shop in Walker’s Point, he had a law degree, a Ph.D. in economics and nary a provolone-related thought. And then he married Beth Nachreiner, daughter of Ferdinand Nachreiner, owner of Cedar Grove Cheese. Bob was brought into the cheesy fold and later took over the company. Now he’s brought his son, Bo, in as well.

“I grew up right across the street from Cedar Grove in Plain and worked pretty much every position at that factory, at one time or another,” says Bo, who is now business manager at Clock Shadow. “I remember playing hide and seek between the boxes of cheddar in the cooler and getting squeaky curds fresh from the vat.”


When Ira Koplowitz and Nick Kosevich launched Bittercube in the fall of 2009, they were the only two people on their company’s payroll. “Nick and I were bartenders before we started Bittercube,” Koplowitz says. “There was no one producing bitters commercially in the Midwest, so I figured, what the hell, let’s give it a shot!”

Since then, their bitters – aromatic and slightly alcoholic concoctions used to flavor cocktails – have been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and Timeout. And they’ve added nearly 20 people to their payroll. But they haven’t lost sight of their artisanal roots. They still make all their bitters by hand, using real botanicals (pre-made extracts have no place in their modern-day apothecary). And they spend weeks working on each 210-gallon batch.

Their bitters contain many carefully blended ingredients. But Koplowitz says the company’s recipe for success is simple: “We love what we do.”

Tactile Craftworks

In 2008, Sarah Heck and Anna Warren both landed jobs in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s prop shop. (like Paloma Wilder!) Heck started spending her summers, when the theater went dark, selling hand-carved leather journals at small fairs and markets for extra money. And about 10 years ago, she recruited Warren to collaborate on projects with her.

“We learned how to laser etch onto leather at an industry night at Discovery World and were prototyping the Milwaukee Map Journal within the month,” Heck says. A year later, they were able to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign to purchase their first laser cutter.

Eventually they turned their part-time hustle into a pair of full-time dream jobs. And they’ve added more products, including flasks like the one on the cover. “We started in 2014 with two wholesale accounts,” Heck says, “and now we have over 200.”

Beaker & Flask

Beaker & Flask ice. Photo by Tom Grimm.

If you’ve ever marveled at a perfectly clear cube of ice in a local cocktail, you may have come across Joey Houghtaling’s handiwork. Around three years ago, Houghtaling – along with business partner Mike McDonald – founded the artisanal ice company Beaker & Flask.

Why pay for a product that you could make at home for free? Because the ice that Houghtaling and McDonald create doesn’t look or behave anything like the stuff you’ve got in your freezer. For one thing, it’s colder and denser than your average ice cube. For another, it’s clear as glass, the result of many hours of hard work and experimentation. “Nothing happens overnight,” Houghtaling says. “It’s a balance of wins and losses – you just need to stay patient, and good will come.”

Several Milwaukee cocktail bars, like hipster haven Boone & Crockett, use the cubes. And you can buy your own at Ray’s Wine and Spirits, too.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s April issue. 

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.