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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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In Dining

Who doesn't want to sport a T featuring a margarita-drinking bunny?

In Dining

Ian's Pizza's most popular T-shirt.

In Dining

Is this metaphorical? Hmm ...

In Dining

A well-worn classic.

In Dining

Alterra has so many good ones to choose from.

In Dining

Want a Webb T? Go online.

In Dining

Koppa's feeds the world. Or at least the East Side of Milwaukee.

Great restaurant logos make wearable T-shirts


For the fifth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2011."

Most of us try to avoid literally wearing our food. However, wearing a T-shirt advertising cool, quality local restaurants is another story. Most of us are fine with promoting our favorite restaurants and cafes across our chests as long as we really like both the establishment and their logo.

One of the most famous T-shirts to emerge from a local eatery was the "I'm Hooked On Oriental Drugs" shirt sold at Oriental Drugs, 2238 N. Farwell Ave. (now Replay Sports Bar), an East Side pharmacy / lunch counter known for its eclectic customer base and consistently good classic-diner food. There seemed to be an endless supply of "I'm Hooked On ..." shirts available when it was open (it closed in 1995 after a 70-year run) but these days, sadly, they are rarely spotted.

The Safe House, 779 N. Front St., has a very recognizable T, too, and it pops up a bit more often and in many different parts of the world. The James Bond-themed bar and restaurant opened in the late '60s, and its black T-shirt with a white briefcase, handcuffs and the words "Safe House" have covered the backs of spy restaurant backers for decades. Today, variations of the shirt exist, but they still sport the classic briefcase logo as well.

Although Fuel Cafe did not perk up the local cafe scene until 1993, their white-on-black logo T quickly became a Brew City classic. The Fuel's 18-year-old oval logo is smart and simple, and has definitely passed the test of time. Scott Johnson, co-owner of Fuel, created the logo quickly, not realizing it would become one of Milwaukee's most famous logos someday.

"The Fuel logo was made totally on the fly by cutting and pasting – with a scissors and glue stick – on a copy machine. It was an oval and a font I cut out of a magazine before a meeting with a bank. We needed a logo for our business plan ASAP and viola, we had one. And I still think it looks cool," says Johnson, who created the Comet Cafe's rabbit logo as well.

Koppa's, 1940 N. Farwell Ave., an indie grocery store that's home to the sandwich-slinging FulBel Deli, sells shirts designed with thought and creativity. The most classic Koppa's shirt reads "Koppa's Feeds The World," but others, according to owner Ken Koppa, have out-sold it in past years.

"The Quality Kraut shirt sells consistently. Followed by the Polish Grocer shirt and the Free Atari shirt," says Ken.

Ken's brother, Mike, who left the family business in 2001, created the original Koppa's logo in 1993. Ken later created the K-inside-a-circle logo that is still used today. "Ken or I designed all the shirts that have ever been sold out of that store," says Mike.

Another East Side grocery store / cafe, Glorioso's, 1020 E. Brady St., has a T that reads "If you love our meatballs, you'll love our sausage" which could be interpreted literally or as sassy speak. The Italian grocery store sells other shirts, too, including one with a vintage black-and-white photo of the store when it was in the old location, also on Brady Street.

Alterra Cafes occupy a corner of the cafe T-shirt market, too. They have offered many different styles of shirt since the company's inception in 1994, and although it's about five years old now, the Day of the Dead skull shirt is still seen around town frequently. Also popular are shirts with various designs that pay tribute to the Central American region that grows the coffee beans and the bull design with the word "Coffee."

George Webb T-shirts have seemingly timeless fashion as well. The recognizable Geroge Webb character, whose head is the letter "G" and torso is the letter "W," appears on most of the shirts. Also popular are the "George Webb predicts 12 straight wins for the Brewers" Ts.

George Webb shirts are not available for purchase inside the diners, instead they are for sale online only.

Conejito's, 539 W. Virginia St., is a Mexican restaurant in Walker's Point with an almost cult-like following. The casual eatery sells humorous T-shirts that capture the spirit well, with depictions of a drunken bunny ("Conejito" means "bunny" in English) and the pots of dead plants that hang from the ceiling.

Ian's Pizza, 2035 E. North Ave., has a variety of T-shirts for sale, including "Pizza Slut," "Pizza Pimp," "Too Drunk For The Drive Thru" – which is currently sold out – and "This is What Democracy Tastes Like," referencing the fact that Ian's has become the unofficial pizza service for Madison protestors.

"I didn't think Milwaukee had the same political vibe going on as Madison, but our 'democracy' T-shirts sold out. We sell a lot of 'Pizza Pimp' shirts, too," says Ian's employee, Sam Hnilicka.

Cliff Ulsberger owns The Factory, 1223 S. 23rd St., and his company screen prints T-shirts for many local restaurants and grocery stores including Fuel, Comet, Palamino, Koppa's and more. Fuel, he says, was his first account.

Over the years of printing shirts, Ulsberger has learned what exactly makes a great restaurant or cafe T-shirt. A good design, according to Ulsberger, is one that makes people want to actually read the words.

"People don't really read T-shirts at first. They see a cool graphic that catches their eye and then they read it," says Ulsberger. "You want an original, well-crafted logo that distinguishes itself from the others out there. Like the Fuel logo. You see it from a block away, and without reading it, you know it's Fuel's logo."

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