If you’re a fan of Milwaukee food, you might’ve heard the name Adam Pawlak once or twice as of late – and not without good reason.
The bearded Bay View-born chef and "Hell’s Kitchen" star has been all over the city after his first solo concept, Egg & Flour Pasta Bar, was a hit in North Avenue’s Crossroads Collective. Dubbed "Milwaukee’s Foodiest Food Hall," the Collective aims to feature local chefs that prepare authentic, scratch-made meals, and Pawlak’s two-ingredient approach fit right in, springboarding his business to the next level quickly.
Fast forward a few years, and Pawlak now runs four area eateries, even expanding into the pizza realm. But how did he get there? Was it an easy journey? Who supported him along the way? Well, dear reader, I’m sure glad I made you ask, because on this week’s episode of The GoGedders Podcast, we take a deep dive into Pawlak’s inspiring story.
Host Richie Burke is joined by Pawlak himself as well as Alex Anderson and the legendary David Caruso to talk about the chef's journey, and what it takes to succeed when setting out to chase your passion. They also talk about the Bucks because, like, how are you supposed to not talk about the Bucks?
Pssst: If I’ve piqued your interest in this week’s pod, you can tune in here.
The story of Egg and Flour starts out in the most wholesome way imaginable: with a friend believing in a friend. Anderson and Pawlak go way back, so when the latter decided it was time to dive headfirst into his first restaurant passion project, he did what anyone would do: He asked himself which of his friends had the flashiest cars and clothes, and went from there.
Already widely known throughout Milwaukee as “The Bowtie Guy," Anderson was first on Pawlak’s list. He gave his buddy a ring, and to Anderson’s recollection, he could tell something was up.
"You know when a friend is asking you for something ... I knew I was gonna get pitched,” Anderson said.
So, Pawlak sat down, and presented his friend with his logo and preliminary plans. Anderson had tried Pawlak’s cooking and knew he was a driven dude with a dream, so he was eager to support his friend. In fact, he had so much faith in the project as its first investor that he didn’t even need to try the pasta first.
“You invest in the person,” Anderson said.
There’s certainly some truth to that in business – you know the going will get tough from time to time, but when you’re sure someone’s got the mental fortitude and passion to push through just about anything, it’s easy to place your bet on them.
“You can tell it’s just authentically what he loves – you feel that as a part of the experience,” David Caruso remarked on the show.
Indeed, Pawlak had the passion, but things did get complicated shortly after the business was set in motion when, following a lengthy vetting process, the chef was selected as a contestant on season 19 of "Hell’s Kitchen." With the business set to open in just a few weeks, Pawlak had to tell his partners, investors and newly-hired employees that he’d be taking a hiatus for a month, tops – and he had to be sly.
See, reality TV hinges on secrecy; the show’s not worth much if people know the ending before they sit down to watch the season. So Pawlak was sworn to secrecy as he was whisked off to Vegas to compete. He told only a small group of people, and his investors understood the upside of going on the show – it was fantastic exposure and a great brand awareness play.
He didn’t end up winning "Hell’s Kitchen," but he presented himself as a fierce competitor and one of the sanest contestants on his season, leaving with newfound motivation. He knew the entire time that he’d be going back to open his brand-new restaurant, and he let that excitement carry him through.
Ultimately, going on the show did work out in his favor. It provided a social media boom for the business, helping propel sales and grabbing the attention of people seeking great pasta in Milwaukee. Ultimately, that’s all Pawlak was after: the chance to serve delicious food to a community that he loves dearly.
If you tune into this week’s episode, you’ll hear how much Adam, Alex and David truly love our dear city of Milwaukee, and how much it means to them to be doing their thing and chasing their passion in the city they’ve always called home. In addition to hearing the chef's inspiring story, you’ll get some key insights from these seriously smart, creative individuals about how to follow your passion, overcome the odds and lean on your support system when the going gets tough.
To listen to this episode, and many others, visit GoGedders' website.
Gabe is bringing you stories on Milwaukee that matter. Tune in for The GoGedders Podcast every Tuesday.