Bring your imagination: An update on Story Hill BKC
"Bring your imagination," read the text from Chef Joe Muench as he invited me to tour the future home of Story Hill BKC at 5102 W. Bluemound Rd., which is scheduled to open sometime this summer.
And there was no pretense in his request. Imagination is exactly what it takes to walk into a space that's been stripped down to the studs and envision the potential of what it might become.
But, that exercise has become part of the day-to-day for restaurant owners Muench and Dan Sidner, whose vision of a coffee shop / retail shop / restaurant still rings larger than life.
"It's exciting and frustrating all at the same time," says Muench as we walk through the space bright and early on a Monday morning.
The large front windows are dusty from the demolition, and yet as the sun filters through the grime it reveals the lovely – if stark – landscape of Mitchell Boulevard Park. The view is broken only by the myriad colors of Nancy Metz White's recycled steel "Tree of Life" sculpture, a symbol of the artists intention that it become a place for Milwaukee locals to gather and forge new community ties.
Not surprisingly, that vision of community is part of the restaurateurs' vision, as well.
The building, which most recently housed Goldfish Uniforms, actually comprises three distinct buildings that were fused as years passed. Once a grocery store and a candy shop, the space has seen its share of neighborhood activity over the years, and Muench says the intention is to restore that vibrancy.
"We want it to be hummin' all day long," he says as he points to the area that will eventually house the café.
The space, which will eventually benefit from natural light thanks to four newly-installed windows, will be flanked by an open kitchen with a wood-fired oven – all visible from the front door as customers enter. Meanwhile, a bar with a counter will provide seating as well as equipment for coffee service.
As Muench leads me further into dust-laden interior, he continues painting a detailed picture of what's to come.
BKC will open at 7 a.m. to offer quick service to customers for breakfast and lunch. "To-go" items like pastries and English pies will be displayed in a case that can be seen from the window, and a menu of composed refined dishes will be available, along with Valentine Coffee. A deli-style counter in front of the kitchen promises to offer fresh meats carved daily.
Behind the kitchen, a back room with a separate entrance will accommodate a 10-top table in an environment that conjures the cozy look of a wine cellar, while allowing natural light to brighten the space through large glass windows or doors facing east. This space, Muench explains, will likely accommodate private parties, wine dinners and the like.
Meanwhile, a retail space, planned for the western portion of the building will encompass a "general store" feel, says Muench, as he urges me to envision a wall stocked floor-to-ceiling with bottles of odd lot and limited edition wines, which will be available for consumers to purchase at reasonable prices to take home or enjoy at the restaurant.
"You can come in and order a couple of glasses of a higher end Bordeaux, maybe, without the commitment to buying the entire bottle," Muench says. "Meanwhile, other diners can look forward to a glass of the same at a great price."
Offerings from craft brewers, as well as Miller Brewing Co., will also be available, as well as high-end regional spirits. A tapper will offer 20-30 beers for customers to sample while they dine, or to take home in BKC growlers. Muench also foresees that gift baskets – maybe a bourbon basket with a few nice cigars – will be part of the retail offerings, and that bartenders and baristas will be trained to guide and educate patrons about available choices.
A tasting bar in the back corner of the space will seat four to six and will be open mid-day through early evening – functioning as a place for customers to enjoy a bite and a glass of something new, or potentially an education in wine or spirits.
Meanwhile, after 4 p.m., the entire restaurant will transform into a full-service dining destination offering an eclectic array of tasting plates (literally small tastes – to the extent, Muench emphasizes that a group might be able to sample most or all of the menu), as well as a few entrees. An outdoor patio along the eastern sidewalk will allow diners to enjoy the neighborhood view while enjoying their meal.
Muench and Sidner are working with Jake Star of Lucky Star Workshop on the design of the space, which will make use of reclaimed materials, metal inlays, and exposed cream city brick that revealed itself during the demolition.
"We didn't know the brick was there," says Muench. "But now it's become part of the vision for the space."
The same goes for the original terrazzo flooring that will be cleaned and refurbished in the front café.
As I shuffle over the muddied marble chips struggling to shine through the mire – and glance back at the look of anticipation on Muench's face as he describes the renovation – I can't help but be inspired by the possibility of possibility.
Watch OnMilwaukee.com as we track the progress of Story Hill BKC and the other restaurants scheduled to open in the coming months.
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