Raising the Bar

Bringing back a classic beer hall, in five not-so-easy steps.

Noted local developer Juli Kaufmann was looking for a new home for her company, Fix Development, when she peeked inside the former Wally Schmidt tavern at 1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave., built in 1893 and closed since 2010.

“I can’t make this my office,” she says of the bar frozen in time. “This needs to be this.”

Jeremy Davis and Juli Kaufmann. Photo by Rebecca Kames.
Jeremy Davis and Juli Kaufmann. Photo by Rebecca Kames.

That was late 2014. Since then, Kaufmann and co-developer Jeremy Davis have gotten themselves hip-deep in restoring the former German beer hall in Lindsay Heights and hope to finish this summer. Here are some of the speed bumps they’ve hit along the way:

1 / “Making the project real”
Kaufmann started with angel investors and built up from there, “telling the story” of Wally Schmidt to potential backers.

2 / Overcoming outsider status
Fully restored, Wally Schmidt could wind up standing apart from its neighborhood a la the relatively pricey Centro Café in Riverwest. “I can’t promise that [won’t happen],” Kaufmann says, “but we know what the neighborhood wants.” Davis’ work at the Walnut Way organization has fostered trust, as has Kaufmann’s crowd-investment plan. And when the project needed a new general contractor, it found one in the neighborhood.

3 / Stomaching a few costly surprises
The basement turned out to lack supports, and an unplanned $100,000 went to adding a kitchen for the chef-to-be.

4 / Butting heads with City Hall
Kaufmann and Davis lost a fight to put an apartment on the top floor without having to install a sprinkler system on all three. End result: no apartment.

5 / Finding the right chef
After reviewing proposals from about 10 different chefs, the developers settled on Caitlin Cullen, formerly of Bavette La Boucherie, Amilinda and Buckley’s.

‘Raising the Bar’ appears in the July issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find the July issue on newsstands beginning June 27, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.
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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.