For over 50 years, the Dairy Queen at 1301 N. Chicago Ave. was a gathering place for families in South Milwaukee. So the loss was palpable when owner Kathy Hartley-Lorisch made the decision to close the business in May of 2019.
But the sun is shining once again on the corner of Chicago and Hawthorne Avenues, as new owners prepare to open a new community-focused business at the beloved location.
For Becky and Zach Kinzer, owners of the mobile espresso and milkshake trailer Better Together Cafe, the idea of opening their own cafe has been a long held dream. And it’s one they hope will come to fruition by mid-to-late August, allowing them to debut their first official brick and mortar cafe to the public.
The couple, who met over a decade ago while working at Starbucks, built their relationship upon a variety of common interests. Among them was the notion of bringing people together.
“What we loved about working at Starbucks was making connections with people who’d come back day after day for their cup of coffee,” says Zach Kinzer. “Every day we came to work we were surrounded by a community of people drawn together by coffee.”
And community was at the heart of the equation when the couple launched their mobile business, Better Together Café, in the fall of 2018, giving it a name that described the heart and soul of the brand.
“The first dance at our wedding was ‘Better Together’ by Jack Johnson,” says Becky Kinzer, “And we knew immediately it would also be the name of our future cafe. It describes our relationship. But it’s also about community and bringing people together. People together are simply better.”
Kinzer says the idea to start the business as a mobile operation was inspired by her experience working for her aunt and uncle who own Double B’s BBQ in West Allis.
“I worked on their food truck for two or three summers,” she says, “And I experienced firsthand how a mobile food operation works. The more we talked about it, the more we liked the idea of the flexibility we had starting off with a mobile business.”
The flexibility of the truck turned out to be a boon during the pandemic, when the ability to shift gears created a recipe for success, even during challenging times.
“Prior to COVID, we’d gotten most business partnering with business parks,” says Zach Kinzer. “But during COVID, we switched to partnering with apartment buildings. That pivot really made a difference. People felt safe coming to the trailer, and we ended up having a really great year.”
When Better Together Cafe launched, they started off with a full espresso-based drink menu, along with espresso milkshakes. Since then, the menu has expanded to include breakfast pastries (think muffins and bagels), as well as an entire line of creative milkshakes from S’mores shakes (chocolate, graham, milk and ice cream topped with a toasted marshmallow) to Fruity Pebbles (Fruity Pebbles cereal, milk and ice cream) and Oreo shakes topped with an Oreo cookie. View the full menu online.
The new cafe
Visible changes have already been made to the former Dairy Queen, which has been given a makeover with a new grey paint job (to match the Better Together trailer and brand) and black modern roofing.
But more is on the way for the cafe in preparation for the opening. The building will get treated to attractive new awnings on the exterior, along with planter boxes to bring life to the outdoor space. There are also plans for an outdoor patio where guests can gather to enjoy their coffee, milkshakes and more.
Inside, the new cafe itself is expected to accommodate seating for about 25 guests in a space that Becky Kinzer describes as “modern but cozy.”
The interior will be decorated in tones of navy, gold and white, with butcher block tables, a tufted orangey-brown leather banquette and plenty of live plants to give the space a warm, welcoming feel.
Meanwhile, the menu will expand even further when the cafe opens in its brick and mortar location. The Kinzers are planning partnerships with other local businesses including bakeries, food trucks and shops like La Macaron in Brookfield to offer light breakfast and lunch options (including paninis and wraps) that can be prepared easily without a full kitchen or hood.
The Kinzers will also add special private label coffee created by a local roaster, as well as a soft serve ice cream machine so that they can make their own ice cream right at the shop.
The current milkshake menu, which includes whimsical offerings like the Unicorn (a milkshake served up with a sour straw and topping of cotton candy) will definitely remain.
But there will also be new items, like the “Better Shake” which will be topped like a bloody mary with various sweet treats and “Together Shakes,” a flight of four 8-ounce shakes that can be purchased for sampling or as an affordable option for families.
The Kinzers admit that moving into a space that was so beloved to the neighborhood is a bit intimidating. But, as residents of the neighborhood (living just four blocks away), they also feel confident that they can deliver on a bit of the magic that Dairy Queen offered.
“People have so many great memories of the Dairy Queen,” says Zach Kinzer, “And there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. But our goal is to bring ice cream back to the neighborhood, along with something new … something more.
“It won’t be Dairy Queen … ” adds Becky Kinzer. “But we’d love it to have the same community oriented feel. We want people to feel the same way about Better Together. We’ve even started talking about different ways to pay tribute to the former business and … well, we’ll find something that makes sense.”
Once open, the tentative hours for Better Together Cafe are Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed on Mondays).
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.