In September, a proposed new business in Wauwatosa was approved by the city’s Plan Commission and work is now slated to begin to transform a 1936 gas station into an ice cream, coffee and snack shop.
Stop by on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 1 to 4 p.m., for free ice cream samples, face painting, games, paint by numbers, and Lion's Tail beer and Fiddleheads coffee samples.
Liz Joy bought the building – the Tosa Gas station, which closed around 2013 – at the end of July and is moving forward with Joy Ice Cream Social, 8334 W. North Ave. in Tosa’s Mid-Town neighborhood.
Her husband, Tom Joy, an architect with Engberg Anderson, drew the plans.
”I get asked why I chose to open an ice cream shop a lot,” she says. “What, like it's so strange that a middle aged woman would have a complete career change she has no experience in to open a seasonal ice cream business in Wisconsin out of a currently crumbling building?
“I tell them that this is the most unoriginal idea I've ever had. The joke is 'tell me you live in Tosa without telling me you live in Tosa ... you've wanted to see the vacant blue roof gas station turned into an ice cream shop'.”
Joy has found luck in a spot that had caused headaches for those who previously tried to open a food business in the tight spot.
The Ruckus Burgers and Ice Cream – which had a Shorewood location – pulled its plan to open a new restaurant there in 2017 in the face of neighborhood opposition. (The Shorewood location closed the following year.)
Joy has not had the same experience, in part because she has met neighbors’ concerns about traffic and parking with the Ruckus plan by emphasizing that she expects most of her customers to arrive from the surrounding neighborhood by foot or bike.
“To say Tosa has been supportive would be an understatement,” she says. “In fact I'd go as far to say we couldn't have done it without the community. When we first went to Tosa Plan Commission back in March we didn't have financing secured yet, when the agenda came out word really started to spread.
“I had been pretty quiet about the business at that point because there were so many 'what ifs' and if it fell through, I didn't want to have to explain that. But, so many people reached out to support, give advice, share contacts, etc. – many of which I didn't know! And honestly, I wouldn't be opening if it wasn't for them. I knew that even if things didn't work out and we didn't open the business, I was going to be forever changed by this experience.”
Joy plans to sell ice cream made by Madison-based Chocolate Shoppe, as well as coffee and cold brew, lemonade and iced tea, kids and adult charcuterie boxes, after school snacks, candy, canned beer and wine. There will also be works by local artists and makers for sale.
"I really want to highlight as many other local artists and entrepreneurs as possible," says Joy. "We'd also like to hold after school and weekend art classes."
The small building will have little more than 600 square feet of indoor space and another 500 square feet of patio outside. There will also be a walk-up ordering window on the 84th Street side.
“The building itself is tiny” she says, “so we will be utilizing every square inch of the outside. We'll have a patio and lawn space in the back – I tell people the vibe is an extremely family friendly beer garden – and also space in front, as well.
“We were inspired by the pocket park next to Rocket Baby and Cranky Al's and wanted the front to create an inviting pedestrian flow from the sidewalk to allow the public to easily come in and out of the space, to sit, gather and become an extension of the sidewalk.”
Joy says she selected Chocolate Shoppe after some in-depth research.
“Let no one tell you that choosing an ice cream is easy,” she says. “It took months of extensive research. We traveled far and wide. My kids were real troopers for putting up with all the taste testing and brain freezes before we unanimously agreed on Chocolate Shoppe: made in Wisconsin, great flavors, not served in many shops around this area, and just hands down our taste test winner.”
Though she has varied career experiences, including interning at the Super Bowl, working in the Kohl’s buying department and working events at Harley-Davidson, she has no previous experience with ice cream, other than as a fan.
So, why and ice cream shop?
“We've lived in Tosa for over 10 years,” she says, “a few blocks from the ice cream shop, and I think it is such an incredible area. We went down to one car because everything we need is in walking distance: school, pediatrician, grocery store, salon, park, pool, pet food ... that last one is now Lion's Tail but hey, even better.”
Still, she saw an opening, a gap...
“What we were really missing was a family focused, gathering spot for families in the neighborhood,” says Joy. “So here we are. My focus for Joy Ice Cream Social and what I'm passionate about is creating an inviting spot for families and neighbors. Some place that people can come not only to celebrate a big win, but on a random evening and make some special, core memories with people they care about.
“I'm an extremely nostalgic person – I think that's a requirement for opening an ice cream shop – and I just wanted to give my kids a neighborhood place to meet and gather with friends. We imagine a lot of our business will come from families and neighbors walking and biking to Joy Ice Cream Social.
So, when can we enjoy a cone? Joy says that she has just gotten her building permit and expects construction to begin next week.
“My goal would be (to open in) spring but I also know there are delays up the wahzoo so time will tell,” she says. “We’ve got a long road of repairs, maintenance and construction ahead of us.
“There isn’t a square inch of this spacethat won’t be updated –it’s going to be an incredible transformation. We’ll be sharing all the details as they happen on Instagram @joy_icecream_tosa.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.