The news recently broke that The Tandem (1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave.) – which was a beacon restaurant during the pandemic, providing thousands of meals to local folks in need – is in need of an owner. Chef Caitlin Cullen, who we named one of our Betty Award winners in 2020, has decided to – in her words – give the restaurant away. But not to just any owner; someone who has passion for The Tandem, its community and the people it touches.
When I talked to her last, in late May, Cullen was about to transition the free community meals over to UpStart Kitchen, a Milwaukee incubator that helps get local food businesses off the ground. Then she and The Tandem staff were going to take a much-needed break of a couple of months, and return to operating as a restaurant – which it hadn’t done since pre-pandemic – in August.
Things changed during Cullen’s backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park in early June. She ended up staying on and helping out at a restaurant and, over the course of her stay, came to some conclusions about her future: namely that she didn’t want to reopen her restaurant.
But putting The Tandem in safe hands is a priority, and not solely up to Cullen. “Ultimately it’s Juli’s decision. Once upon a time fives years ago, she took a chance on me. I want to honor the chance that was taken on me,” says Cullen. The “Juli” she’s referring to is Juli Kaufmann, of Fix Development, which transformed the former Wally Schmidt building into The Tandem.
And the more “noise” about a potential restaurateur, the better, Cullen says. She’s asking that anyone interested email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for Cullen’s future, she plans to stay in Milwaukee and for the time being, “stay still. I want to not plan what I want to do,” which she says she has been doing since high school. And yet, one idea comes to the surface. Just as she’s made helping youth in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood a priority, giving them needed work experience, Cullen says she’d like to help troubled youth through wilderness therapy.
Says Cullen: “For me, [The Tandem] hasn’t been mine for a long time. It belongs to every investor, to so many people who’ve given their time and energy.”