In October, we shared the news about the brand new cafe moving into the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee studios, located at 220 Pittsburgh Ave. in Walker’s Point.
The cafe, which is expected to open in 2022, is part of a $770,000 renovation and expansion of the station’s studio and office building. And it marks a significant milestone for the station, which aspires to amplify its community-centered mission through the addition of food and beverage.
During construction, the former cafe area will be entirely redesigned, with a kitchen added in the back portion of the space. Meanwhile, a 300+ square foot addition will bring the front of the cafe and eatery to around 1650 square feet. Garage doors which open up to the sidewalk will provide potential for an open air cafe, while a spacious covered area will provide ample outdoor seating.
But that’s not all. Radio Milwaukee unveiled a great deal more about the cafe – including the venue’s name, menu and mission – at a community reception this evening.
And – suffice it to say – Deadwax Sound Cafe may just break the mold in terms of what it means to the Milwaukee foodspace and the community.
The space in between
Deadwax Sound Cafe has a very different ring to it than some might expect.
On the one hand, the name is likely to resonate immediately with audiophiles, since it’s a reference to the term used to describe the area on vinyl records that sits between the last track on the record and the label itself.
But it’s a name which embraces far more, including the desire to build a true community hub that offers the community a place to gather, network and build one another up.
“Dead wax is the space in between” notes Radio Milwaukee Executive Director Kevin Sucher, “Which is exactly what we want this space to be for our community. And we’re calling Deadwax a ‘sound café’ because the vibrations of music and community connection will be the soundtrack for the experience. And the space will help solidify Radio Milwaukee’s mission to create a more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee.”
The cafe is part of the three-pronged approach which Radio Milwaukee has taken to define and build community in their space. That approach includes activation of the station’s performance space, its community room and (soon) a gathering place where people can assuage far more than hunger.
“We want to create a networking environment that’s inclusive and welcoming,” says Sucher. ‘The hope is that people can use our space from breakfast onwards to connect with one another, to share ideas. Adding food to the mix is just another way to amplify what we do.”
Sucher also points out that Radio Milwaukee’s broadcast frequency, WYMS-FM 88.9, got its start playing vinyl records.
“We view the name Deadwax as an homage to our history,” he said. “It perfectly encapsulates the environment we want to create – a place where you can stay for as long as you want; a place where you will consistently discover something or someone new; a place fueled by good music, community, food and drink.”
A new model for a new cafe
At the helm of the cafe is local chef and restaurateur, Chad Meier, who spent months soul-searching after closing his Walker’s Point restaurant in August of 2020.
“When I closed Meraki, I made the decision to close a door... I knew I didn’t want to go back to fine dining," says Meier.
But when he read the news that the Stone Creek cafe at Radio Milwaukee had closed, he said it brought a wealth of ideas to the fore.
“I’ve been a member of Radio Milwaukee, probably since its inception, and I’ve always felt passionate about their mission,” he says. ‘At the time, I didn’t even know that I was the person to do it, but I had so many ideas for how they could utilize that space. So, I sent off an email with some of my suggestions.”
The email didn’t fall on deaf ears.
‘We got so many calls after Stone Creek closed,” says Sucher. “And it would have been so easy to give the space to another vendor. But I felt that I owed the organization the opportunity to really think differently and take advantage of that space to amplify our mission. So, we really took the time to talk with people, with the community, about how to do that. When Chad brought his ideas to the table, they resonated with the ideas we already had, and we formed an immediate connection.’
When Sucher approached him with the opportunity to operate the cafe in collaboration with Radio Milwaukee, Meier says he couldn’t think of a better way to use his skills as a chef to better his community.
“The idea of it not being a restaurant… of it being a collaboration and a community space is really appealing to me,” he says. “I’m excited about breaking the mold completely, about taking things outside of that box.”
An eclectic menu
In turn, Meier is in the process of crafting an eclectic food and beverage program that reflects the spirit of discovery which will define the counter-service cafe.
The menu will feature a core of food and beverage items, including coffee, beer, wine and spirits, which will change frequently based on seasonal ingredients from local vendors.
“It will be the sort of place where people will come to see what’s on the menu for any given day,” says Meier. “We’ll definitely be changing things up often, so there will always be something new to try.”
Breakfast staples will include items like Scotch eggs, breakfast wraps and a variety of tartines (think avocado toast, etc.). There will also be “lunch boxes” featuring soups and sandwiches, along with items like grab and go salads and musubi.
“The cafe won’t be a dinner spot, per se,” says Meier. “But we definitely see this as a place to stop in later in the day, maybe before or after an event. It will be the perfect place for a happy hour stop and snacks with friends or post-event drinks.”
Along that vein, the cafe will offer easy-to eat dishes like samosas, empanadas, “things on sticks,” and pub style pizzas. Meyer says that some will be housemade; others will be sourced from Milwaukee purveyors.
Meanwhile, the cafe will also include a Marketplace which will showcase a wide variety of items from locally made food products, beverages and goods to music related items including vinyl records.
“Radio Milwaukee amplifies the good things happening in Milwaukee, from music to nonprofits to entrepreneurs,” says Meier, “So, we’d also love for this to be a place where we can support other businesses, makers and musicians.”
Meier says he also aspires to use Deadwax to support and strengthen Milwaukee’s food and beverage communities. That includes providing a space for pop-ups and collaborations with other local chefs.
The same spirit will bleed into the Deadwax coffee program, which will be a partnership with Interval owner and local coffee roaster Ryan Hoban. It will showcase not only coffee served at the Interval cafe, but also coffee collaborations created in tandem with roasters from Hoban’s network.
“I love that we can also provide a space for people to learn, grow and collaborate,” he says. “This is a space that will be defined by the people who come here, the people who engage with this idea of community and collaboration. And we have to be open to how it evolves moving forward.”
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.