By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Jul 12, 2018 at 12:41 PM

Since public funding was approved for a new Downtown arena three years ago, the Bucks have continually touted the citywide benefits of their development and how locally focused it is, from using area construction crews and revitalizing the Park East corridor to building an entertainment plaza that brings the community together and revealing founding partnerships with major Milwaukee companies. For a project that received $250 million from state taxpayers, the team has made a clear, conscious effort to espouse how Wisconsin-centric the world-class venue will be.

And that continued Thursday, when the team unveiled MKEat, the new arena's "dynamic, locally focused food and beverage program" that will "redefine the sports and entertainment culinary experience." With an emphasis on local products, unique services and distinctive culinary talent throughout the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, the Bucks say MKEat is "a culinary vision that proudly reflects Milwaukee’s food culture." And that name. It doesn’t get much more local and techno-fresh-sounding than MKEat.

Led by WESC senior executive chef Kenneth Hardiman and food and beverage provider Levy, the new program includes partners from all over the city and around the state, including several iconic Milwaukee brands that will bring original takes on classic dishes to the venue, which opens Aug. 26.

"Milwaukee has an incredible legacy and emerging culinary scene that will be showcased by MKEat for all of our guests," said Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin. "We are excited to combine the city’s signature tastes and flavors with renowned global brands that are based in Wisconsin to redefine the sports and entertainment culinary experience." 

So, what will be at the new arena? Among others, Klement’s Sausage, Sobelman’s, The Laughing Taco, Gold Rush Chicken, Iron Grate BBQ, FreshFin Poké, Cedar Crest Ice Cream, Colectivo Coffee and Milwaukee Pretzel Company. Indeed, it’s an eclectic array of local culinary establishments. Also, Chick-fil-A.

Unique to the WESC will be Canal Street Pizza, a new concept developed with the Fallucca family, founders of Palermo’s Pizza, a longtime Bucks partner. Additionally, core menu items at concession stands throughout the venue will include Klement’s Sausage and Wisconsin-based Sargento Cheese. 

You want beer? MKEat will feature a top-shelf selection of Wisconsin-made beer reflecting Milwaukee’s proud brewing tradition. The WESC’s beverage program is built upon the locally brewed and internationally acclaimed beer from longtime sponsor Miller Brewing Company, a founding partner of the new arena. Along with Miller products, local lifestyle brand Drink Wisconsinbly, "will entitle and curate three craft beer bars, presenting a rotating list of exclusive Wisconsin micro brews," the Bucks said. 

As a tribute to the beloved Milwaukee Public Market, the WESC also is home to the upper-level Southside Market, which will serve a variety of food and beverage options not available anywhere else in the arena and provide a "differentiated experience for guests."

According to the team, during the process for developing the new program, Levy and the Bucks extensively sampled restaurants and vendors to find high-quality and diverse offerings. The soon-to-be announced menu will feature fresh, made-to-order dishes and include gluten-free and kosher items.

"MKEat will fulfill Milwaukee’s global palate, while maintaining our proud Wisconsin roots," Hardiman said. "In addition to offering signature Milwaukee cuisine, we will source 95 percent of our food and plateware from within the state. The themes and quality of our culinary offerings will be a memorable part of what guests experience at the new arena."

Besides the local presence, the WESC is housing some respected national brands. Chick-fil-A will have a stand in the arena, bringing the popular national chain to Milwaukee for the first time. Great Lakes Coca-Cola Bottling is the venue’s official soft drink, bottled water and iced tea partner. And the WESC will boast an impressive selection of premier beverage providers, including Jack Daniel’s, George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila, the organic ruby grapefruit wine spritz RAMONA, Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey.  

According to the Bucks, the state-of-the-art arena’s production capacity is also improving significantly, with 17 free-standing kitchens; stainless steel, best-in-class equipment; dedicated pizza ovens; and a wood-fired smoker capable of handling up to 3,000 pounds of meat. In addition, the venue’s equipment reportedly runs on natural gas, which will make it easier to keep grills and fryer oil consistently hot, allowing for faster guest service.

The WESC, which has yet to announce a naming rights sponsor, will host a grand opening event on Aug. 26 with public tours of the new arena and the fourth annual Bucks Block Party.

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.