Milwaukee Neighborhood Guide: Lindsay Heights

Welcome to Lindsay Heights. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad and a thriving hub for African Americans, it is now struggling to revitalize after decades of economic strife — and is doing so with the collective efforts of local businesses, community organizations and foundations. Here’s how they — and so many others that space wouldn’t allow — are connecting Lindsay Heights to itself and the rest of Milwaukee through food, wellness, and entrepreneurship.

Historical Points of Interest

  • Late 1800s: Area first settled by German immigrants
  • 1842: 16-year-old runaway slave Caroline Quarles hidden at Samuel Brown’s farm, an important stop on the Underground Railroad which sat on what is now Johnsons Park
  • Early 1900s: North Avenue settled by Russian-Polish Jewish immigrants
  • By 1920s: Neighborhood and nearby Bronzeville now a hub for African Americans migrating from the South
  • 1969: Decades-long plans for the Park West Freeway abandoned, only after thousands of homes had been demolished
  • 1980s: 13-acre Johnsons Park, named after a prominent African American businessman and his wife, built on site of demolished homes
  • 1980: Running Rebels Community Organization established
  • 1987: Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum opens
  • Early 1990s: Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) begins rebuilding and rehabilitating neighborhood
  • 1997: Renamed Lindsay Heights in 1997 after community activist Bernice Lindsay, sometimes called “the mother of the black community”
  • 2008: Zilber Family Foundation announced a “ten-year, $50 million commitment to improve the quality of life in Milwaukee neighborhoods, starting with Lindsay Heights and Clarke Square.”

Source: Zilber Family Foundation

Map of Lindsay Heights Points of Interest

Connecting Through Food

→ The Tandem

Where: 1848 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.

Caitlin Cullen, owner of The Tandem (Photo by Dominic Inouye)

This Lindsay Heights restaurant is much more than one of the best places to eat in the city. Currently staffing twenty five now, owner Caitlin Cullen has trained and employed around sixty people over the past year, many from the neighborhood itself. For some of them it’s their first job and for many, The Tandem has become a pipeline to downtown restaurant jobs. “We’re finally seeing the results of what we came here for,” Cullen says proudly.

Cullen — a former high school English teacher in Detroit and school principal in the Dominican Republic–always wanted The Tandem to be a culinary and professional bridge between the neighborhood and downtown. While downtown brims with building excitement, including the new Bucks arena just down the avenue, almost half of Lindsay Heights’ 13,000 residents live below the poverty line. For them, The Tandem provides both hope, education and practical skills for the community. And for foodies all over Milwaukee, it’s an attractive destination to enjoy crowd-pleasing whole chickens (Spicy Memphis, Georgia or Dominican style), hearty sides and vegetarian options like the beet Reuben.

A large marquee beckons customers inside, where a vintage tandem bike is parked over the bar, a symbol of how Cullen works with the community in which she chose to open her restaurant a year ago. In fact, on November 25, The Tandem will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a buffet and, a week after, its first new menu!

→ Jake’s Deli

Where: 1634 W. North Ave.

The prices are no longer 1955 but Jake’s Deli remains an iconic Lindsay Heights deli. In 1903, it was a butcher shop in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but Jake Levin bought it in 1955 and changed its name. Since then, it has thrived as, arguably, the best place to get a corned beef sandwich or a Reuben (the men behind the counter meticulously, almost artistically, slice and weigh each portion of meat). Other offerings include the Kosher hot dog, matzo ball soup or the veggie Philly.

Photo by Dominic Inouye
→ Coffee Makes You Black

Where: 2803 N. Teutonia Ave.

Bradley Thurman and Laurie Henderson have been serving up comfort food in a renovated, two-story bank building for fifteen years (after fifteen years of being abandoned). Today, Coffee Makes You Black is a brightly lit, spacious affair, with tall windows, a wrap-around balcony with big conference rooms and offices, walls filled with Black art and photos of musicians and other greats and, of course, coffee and plates of chicken and waffles (my favorite) and other simple but soulful offerings.

→ The Juice Kitchen

Where: 1617 W. North Ave.

Maanaan & JoAnne Sabir call their business a “movement,” an “investment.” The Juice Kitchen was born after they began juicing to help cure their son Taj’s illness — and it did. Now, they serve up fresh pressed juices, ginger shots, smoothies and one- to twenty-one-day cleanses at their small but bustling store in the Innovation & Wellness Commons (see below). Whether you’re looking to gain muscle or energy or even fight cancer, there’s a concoction for you. A fitness buff, Maanaan might even challenge you to a push-up duel right there on the floor!

Photo by Dominic Inouye

Connecting Through Wellness

→ Alice’s Garden Urban Farm & Community Garden

Where: 2136 N. 21st St.

Venice Williams, Executive Director of Alice’s Garden (Photo courtesy of Venice Williams)

Sitting on the site of an even larger 1970s garden, Alice’s Garden Urban Farm has flourished under the careful tending of Executive Director Venice Williams since 2004. According to Williams, “We use gardening as the carrot, pun intended, to invite people through the gate to impact their entire quality of life. We do cultivate healthy food, but we also nourish people, and build community through all we offer.” All the ways in which Alice’s Garden builds community are too numerous to mention here. Not only do people from diverse cultural backgrounds — African, European, Hmong, Thai, and many others — tend plots, but programming includes outdoor yoga classes, movie nights, a weekly artisan market and an Annual Black Lives Matter event. “It’s all about fertilizing and growing a more vigorous and stable Milwaukee,” adds Williams, “where people cross all kinds of societal and cultural bridges to connect.”

As we approach the winter months, the garden will be resting, as will Williams, as she focuses on building the program, staff and funding infrastructure of the garden. The garden, which has at least 120 plots, is accepting applications for the 2018 growing season. You can find Williams and the Alice’s Garden herbal product line at the Outpost Makers Market in the Innovation and Wellness Commons (see below), which she manages every Thursday and Saturday, November through April.

→ Walnut Way Conservation Corp.

Where: 1836 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.

Photo by Dominic Inouye

Walnut Way Conservation Corp. is housed in a building once slated for demolition during a time in the late 1990s when the neighborhood was rife with drugs, prostitution and gun violence. In 2002, founders Sharon and Larry Adams rallied neighbors to take back their neighborhood and create what is now an active community resource center that tends a thriving orchard, plants rain gardens, provides employment pathways and runs wellness programs for men and women. They drive the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood Initiative and helped develop the Innovation & Wellness Commons (see below).

→ Innovation & Wellness Commons

Where: 1617 W. North Ave.

Phase I of this multi-use, community-driven space was completed in 2015 and houses The Juice Kitchen, the Outpost Foods Learning & Event Center (which features community programming plus the Outpost Makers Market, Alice’s Garden Herbals, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls and other vendors), a huge commercial kitchen used by the Milwaukee Center For Independence to create and distribute thousands of meals around the city each day and the headquarters for the Fondy Food Center, which connects residents to local farmers and food. Phase II, to begin in 2018, will bring even more entrepreneurship, community engagement and wellness to Lindsay Heights and will include a 2,000-square-foot rooftop space.

→ Fondy Farmers Market, Fondy Park & Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market

Where: Fondy Farmers Market (2200 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.), Fondy Park (Corner of W. Fond Du Lac Ave. & W. Meinecke Ave.), Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market (524 S. Layton Blvd.)

Photo by Dominic Inouye

This September, a new sustainable stormwater park was dedicated as a community green space (in what was once a vacant lot next to the Fondy Farmers Market) and the market itself celebrated its 100-year anniversary. From May through November, over 30 local food producers and other vendors provide fresh produce and products to Lindsay Heights residents and visitors from around the city. Between November 4th and April 14th, the Fondy Food Center operates the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market in the Greenhouse Annex of the Mitchell Park Domes, with about 50 vendors every Saturday.