By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Feb 04, 2021 at 11:01 AM

There’s a new cocktail pop-up debuting Valentine’s Day weekend at Hawthorne Coffee Roasters, 4177 S. Howell Ave. And it offers not only an opportunity to celebrate love, but also to get a peek at the cafe’s newly expanded seating area.

The Shift Change pop-up, which takes place Feb. 13, with reserved seatings at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., will showcase a Valentine’s Day themed menu, “This Menu was Built for Lovers,”  featuring both classic and original drinks including the Paper Plane (bourbon, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Aperol, blood orange and lemon); Love a la Playa (Tequila, orange, lime, ginger, hibiscus and Tajin), Pink Gin (Plymouth gin, Angostura and Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters); and a flaming punch called Burning Desire (Twisted Path white and dark rum, Good Land Orange Liqueur, lime and cherry), all priced $9-15.

Paper Plane cocktail
Paper Plane

The Valentine’s Day weekend pop-up is the first of a monthly series of themed Shift Change cocktail pop-ups led by owner Steve Hawthorne, a coffee roaster whose experience includes work with institutions including Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, The Jazz Estate and At Random. But the concept, Hawthorne says, has the potential to evolve into something more permanent.

Named for the shift from day to evening and the transition from coffee to cocktail hour, Shift Change also reflects the early days of Hawthorne Coffee Roasters when Hawthorne sold coffee at farmers markets by day and moonlighted as a bartender in the evening to supplement his income.

“After working during the day, I’d come home, spend time with my family, tuck the kids into bed, take a quick nap and then head in for the night shift,” he says.

Cocktails aren’t a foreign concept at the coffee shop, which launched a coffee-based cocktail program about three years ago, which evolved to include Friday night happy hours and regular drink offerings to accommodate pop-ups and patrons of Foxfire, Hawthorne’s long-term resident food truck.

“We’ve hosted so many pop-ups for other people,” says Hawthorne. “And it occurred to me that it was about time we hosted our own.”

Hawthorne Coffee interiorX

A fresh new look

Should you choose to attend the Shift Change pop-up, you’ll also have the chance to break in Hawthorne Coffee Roasters’ newly expanded seating area.

Like so many businesses in town prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawthorne Coffee had finally hit its stride, serving a healthy number of customers daily in its relatively cozy coffee shop quarters. 

At first, the shop adapted by establishing curbside pick-up (a service likely to continue even after the pandemic has passed), as well as enhanced outdoor seating. But, as the weather grew colder this fall and sales dropped, Hawthorne says he knew that outdoor seating was no longer a viable option.

So, he and his wife and co-owner Kendra Baron set their minds to creating additional indoor seating that complied with their COVID-19 plan’s social distancing and safety requirements.

Cozy seating at Hawthorne CoffeeX

“It was always in the back of our minds to really make use of all the space we had,” says Hawthorne. “But like anything else, COVID-19 has given us the time and energy to focus on things that have been on the back burner.”

With a combination of ReStart grant funding and old fashioned sweat equity, they transformed the entire cafe space, adding a brand new bar (with a more efficient configuration) and clearing out much of the seating to allow sufficient space for customers to (safely) wait for their orders.

New bar at Hawthorne CoffeeX

Take a peek at the bar and you’ll find a more efficient set-up, complete with plexiglass guards. The bar itself features charming touches like upcycled tin tile, shelving brackets made for the shop by Milwaukee Blacksmith and (if you look) you’ll even find the former cash register that once sat on the counter at the former Palm Tavern in Bay View (RIP Palm Tavern).

They’ve also implemented new ordering processes. In addition to online ordering and curbside pick-up (which remains in effect), customers are asked to follow new protocols for ordering at the counter. The process is easy. Enter through the main entrance, place your order at the register, pick-up your order at the end of the bar and follow the signs to exit through the newly operational entrance on the front of the building. 

For those who wish to enjoy their coffee, cocktails or Foxfire offerings on site, they’ve also converted a large room, formerly used for storage, into an attractive, socially distanced seating area.

Seating area at Hawthorne CoffeeX

The space, which was once a bowling alley, still sports much of the original bowling lane flooring, along with a variety of seating options from smaller two-tops to slightly larger tables. Decorative dividers made from old windows and bourbon barrels used to age and flavor Hawthorne’s fantastic bourbon barrel-aged cold brew add charm to the space.

Dividers in seating area at Hawthorne CoffeeX

Additional safety measures in the space include efficient contactless ordering via QR codes at each table, as well as the installation of free-standing air purifiers which help to remove bacteria, viruses and other particulates from the air.

Reservations for the Shift Change pop-up on Feb. 13 can be made online. Each reservation includes a $25 non-refundable deposit, which will be deducted from each party’s bill on the night of the pop-up.  In addition, you can track updates and previews of the first pop-up menu (as well as future pop-ups) by following @ShiftChangeMKE on Instagram.

Hawthorne Coffee is open Monday through Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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.