About a year ago, Wauwatosa Ald. Joel Tilleson approached Paul Hackbarth to discuss the potential for bringing his business, Camp Bar, to East Wauwatosa. He went over the master plan for the area and shared demographics and census results, along with potential spaces that were available along North Avenue.
"It was one of the coldest days of the year," Tilleson recalls, "And we took a walking tour of North Avenue so that he could see just what it was like."
Hackbarth says that before his meeting with Tilleson, Wauwatosa wasn’t really a location he and his wife, Natalia, had ever considered. But, as they gathered more and more information, they became increasingly attracted to the area. And they began to envision what it might be like to put another Camp Bar there.
"We looked at a few spaces, none of which worked out," he says. "But, then the Speedway building came up for sale, and we knew it was right.
"It actually has the same square footage as our Shorewood location," he continues. "There is retail space on the first floor, an apartment upstairs, a lot in back. It just kind of called our name, and we knew instantly that it was right."
Tilleson says that working closely with businesses to get them thinking about putting a location in East Tosa has become the model for how business is done in the area.
"We’ve been hand picking businesses that we want in the area," he says, 'And it’s been working really well. Once one or two desirable businesses sign on, it makes the community more attractive overall."
In the case of Camp Bar, Tilleson says he was attracted to its unique business model, which – in some ways – goes against the grain of a typical bar.
"It’s family friendly," he notes. "And in that respect, it’s a great fit for the neighborhood, which is slowly filling up with unique dining options. We don’t currently have a place that’s really friendly for people to watch games."
And, despite being a bar, family friendliness has always been an important element of Camp Bar.
"One of the things we’ve always done here at Camp Bar is listen," he says. "We’re constantly trying to be responsive to the needs of the community."
That responsiveness began with the concept itself.
"We know so many people who’ve traveled up north as a kid, or who vacation there," he explains. "It strikes so many chords with so many people – young, old, people with families. And that’s what appealed to us about it. People come in as families, watch the game, order pizza. It’s not just another bar."
Hackbarth’s background in creating atmosphere’s through his business, Sound by Design, bled easily into the Camp Bar concept – which features top of the line lighting and sound.
They also made a conscious decision not to include a kitchen in the planning for the bar.
"Focusing on food can take away from what we’re selling here – which is atmosphere, socializing," Paul explains. "When you put a kitchen in, you change that."
So, the husband and wife team came up with a hybrid concept by which they partner with an area business to provide food to their customers, using a system called Zingle, which allows customers to text food orders to be delivered right to the bar.
"In Shorewood, we’ve partnered with Falbo’s Pizza. And it works really well," he says. "We have a high standard for what we offer, even though we don’t make it ourselves. It keeps people happy, but doesn’t pull us away from the focus of what we do."
While the Hackbarths haven’t decided with whom they’ll partner for food service in Wauwatosa, they are determined to sustain a similar model – something that Tilleson sees as an asset.
"We bring in businesses that are compatible, not competitive," says Ald. Tilleson. "Camp Bar is another business that fits into that model where businesses really helps one another out. It’s like Rocket Baby supplying bread to other businesses. The services are complementary."
One element the Hackbarths say they’re really looking forward to pulling together is the outdoor space at the Tosa location, which will be built on 1,000 square feet of space directly behind the building.
"It’s not something we have in Shorewood," Natalie notes, "So, we’re definitely excited. Imagine nights when you can watch football outside on a big screen TV. There will be a garden with fireplaces and fire pits. Families can get together and make s’mores outside."
A build-out to accommodate restrooms accessible to both indoor and outdoor customers will also allow for rooftop seating on a terrace overlooking the remainder of the outdoor space.
"We’ve learned a lot about this location insofar as what works and what doesn’t, especially from the consumer perspective," she says. "Walkability in Wauwatosa is also a big factor. You can walk home or get a short cab ride. That’s an asset."
Tilleson notes that both walkability and bike-ability are both factors that have been central to the overall plans for East Tosa.
"We’re making strides to improve that – with bike lanes going in on both sides of the street starting this year," he says. "The committee just passed a city-wide bike and pedestrian plan, which includes bright green painted bike lanes with colored crosswalks and bike boxes that allow bikes to pull in front of traffic at intersections so that they can set the trend for traffic."
According to Tilleson, the model for the bike lanes is a new one. First popularized in New York and California, the trend has moved slowly into Chicago, and now Wisconsin.
"Madison and Menomonee have put in a few of them," he says, "And Tosa will be the third in the state to implement them."
The hope is that the bike lanes will not only create a more neighborhood friendly environment, but also accommodate increasing demand by Wauwatosa residents who work Downtown and would like to ride their bikes to work.
In accordance with the new plan, Camp Bar will feature bike racks along the sidewalk in front of the bar for biking patrons.
"I really have to say that none of this would’ve been possible without Ald. Tilleson’s help," Paul acknowledges. "This process is so much different than our experience in Shorewood. We were somewhat on our own, going before the City Council and arguing for our concept. So, it’s great – he walked us through it. It was a real partnership."
Tilleson returns a nod and smile.
"Overall, this is really becoming a model for public and private cooperation," he says. "With everyone really working together, I hope it sets an example for other businesses to follow."
Camp Bar hopes to be ready for a grand opening on Aug. 1.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.