When Tim Talsky opened Bella Caffe, 189 N. Milwaukee St., in 2001 it was the first and only coffee house in the neighborhood.
"I always enjoyed the atmosphere of coffee houses," says Talsky, who has a business partner, Jim Nowlen. "They are places where people talk to each other. They are more like bars than restaurants in that way."
The focus for the first few years was to serve good coffee and homemade desserts to theater-goers after performances.
Over time, Bella’s concept changed. With the addition of more coffee places in the area – including Cedarburg Coffee Roasters, Colectivo, Stone Creek, Starbucks and the Hudson Business Lounge – competition increased and the customer base thinned out.
"Coffee sales have gone down every year over the past 10 years," says Talsky. "Even McDonald’s and gas stations are serving better coffee these days. There’s a lot of competition."
Although good coffee is still important – the cafe uses Colectivo beans – food has become equally important, if not more of a focal point. Breakfast and lunch now bring in more customers than late night.
"The demand for food was pretty incredible," says Talsky, who grew up in Greenfield and currently lives in the town of Ottawa. "We would not be in business anymore if we didn’t add more food items to our menu."
There is also a Bella Caffe in Brookfield, in Sendik’s Towne Center.
Bella Caffe’s menu is primarily soups, sandwiches and desserts. There are more than 200 soup recipes in rotation, with African peanut chicken and tomato bisque the top sellers. All of the soups are made from scratch.
The sandwich menu features five deli and four grilled. Like the soups, the sandwiches are made from scratch.
"It’s the little things that make a great soup or sandwich," says Talsky. "When we make a grilled steak with blue cheese, we grill the steak on demand, and all of the chicken we use here is baked first with the skin still on and then we remove the skin after it’s baked to ensure moisture."
Bella’s breakfast items include quiche, baked goods, an egg breakfast bagel, baked oatmeal and more.
The Third Ward Bella’s is comfortable with lots of windows, seating, plants and funky sculpture. The cafe caters to primarily MIAD students and staff as well as business professionals.
In 2004, Talksy opened The Soup Market in Bay View at 2211 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. with chef Dave Jurena.
Since then, they have expanded with four more locations. In 2005, they opened The Soup & Stock Market in the Public Market (the name is different because they actually sell soup stock as well as ready-to-eat bowls).
Other Soup Market locations are in Hales Corners, 5301 S. 108th St., the Milwaukee Center, 111 E. Kilbourn Ave., and they most recently opened one in Washington Heights at 5330 W. Vliet St.
Although he’s happy by the expansion of his eateries into new neighborhoods, Talsky still has a special fondness for the Third Ward. Currently, a tree-line boulevard is being built on his street which will slow down traffic and potentially increase business.
"The neighborhood association here is really strong and we have always enjoyed being a part of the energy here," says Talsky. "The Third Ward is the jewel of Milwaukee."
The hours at Bella Caffe are Monday-Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday from 6 a.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.; and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.