By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 06, 2021 at 12:01 PM

After over five years in its current location, Camino – the popular craft beer bar and restaurant at 434 S. 2nd St. – is gearing up for a move to a larger building just over a half-mile away at 631 W. National Ave.

“I love our current space,” says owner Casey Rataczak, who recently purchased the new building on National, “but we outgrew it about three years ago. And, ultimately, we’d like to be able to accommodate all of the customers that we have to turn away on the weekends.”

The move isn’t imminent. In fact, the bar is likely to remain in its current quarters until at least May of 2022. But, when it does, customers are in for a treat.

Building on West National AvenueX

Unexpected success

In 2015, Walker’s Point was in the midst of a revival. The area around South Second Street was exploding with new food and beverage venues. Among the myriad openings was a low-key craft beer bar called Camino.

"I really wanted to open a place that showcased the best of American craft beer ... And I wanted it to be casual, accessible, simple," noted Rataczak in the weeks before the bar opened.

What he didn’t anticipate was that his from-scratch bar menu featuring exceedingly well executed burgers, inventive sandwiches like the beet reuben and a Brussels sprouts grinder, and some of the city's best house-made fried cheese curds would catch on like wildfire.

Ultimately, the quaint affordable beer bar Rataczak had envisioned became a popular eatery, which also happened to have a great beer list. As the word traveled, it quickly outgrew its cozy quarters, leading to the addition of a beautiful beer garden in 2016 and a second location in West Allis this past summer.

Camino in West Allis X

“West Allis has been an eye opening experience in terms of what we have been able to offer to our customers,” says Rataczak, noting the advantages of not only a slightly larger venue, but a kitchen large enough to keep up with demand.

“I understand the pitfalls of moving an established business, but at this point, it's really necessary to deliver on everything we’d like to do with the brand.”

Bigger and better

As Rataczak looked for a larger location, he says it was important to find a space in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

“I really do love the area,” he says, “so that was definitely a factor. Ideally, I would have loved to have purchased the building and expanded it, but ultimately that wasn’t an option.”

When the National Avenue property showed up on his radar, he says it was a fit. The building, which has been vacant for at least six years, offers a much larger kitchen space and, at just over 3400 square feet, a footprint that’s nearly three times the size of Camino on South Second.

The new location, he says, will allow for the expansion of their scratch-made food options, which will be overseen by Amanda Cooper, a New York chef who moved to Milwaukee while working for Holiday Inn, and is currently running the kitchens at both Camino locations. Meanwhile, the bar and staff will continue to be managed by Charlie Chaparas.

“We’ll be able to bring our sausage-making back in house,” he says, “as well as our pierogi. And with a larger kitchen we can do things we’ve always wanted to do, including offer a full brunch  on weekends and a Friday fish fry.”

The fish fry at Camino in West AllisX

To renovate the space, Rataczak says he’ll will work with Case Breitzman of Tiny Hammer LLC, the contractor who assisted him in creating the look and feel at both Camino locations, as well as Justin Kutz of the Wisconsin Reclamation Project for upcycled wood accents.

“In some ways,” he says, “the look and feel will be very similar to the West Allis location. We’ll have a partially-open kitchen, a brand new bar and there’s space for a large outdoor patio.”

Rataczak says he's also excited to be part of the rapidly evolving National Avenue corridor.  

“I love that strip,” he says, offering a nod to some of the newer businesses that have cropped up in recent years, including Dream Lab. "It’s exciting to be a part of all of the development that’s going on there, including the initiatives to make the area more pedestrian and bike friendly.” 

As for the South Second Street property, Rataczak says he hasn’t decided if he’ll give it up when his lease expires in August of 2022.

“I’m open to the possibility of retaining the current space and putting a new concept there,” he says.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.