By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jul 10, 2017 at 9:01 AM

Milwaukee pastry chef Molly Sullivan has wanted to own a cafe for as long as she can remember. And her dream will come to pass just in time for her birthday on Saturday, July 22, when Miss Molly’s Cafe & Pastry Shop officially opens to the public at 9201 W. Center St.

The counter service cafe, which will seat 24 inside and another 24 on an outdoor patio, is bright and airy, with a cozy feel imparted by warm hardwood floors and a tile fireplace on the western wall. Floor-to-ceiling windows sport whimsical graphics of cakes, coffee cups and flowers by graphic designer Kate Niemer.

"In many ways," Sullivan notes, "I want people to see this as a real homey place, an extension of where they live. I love that it’s small. I always envisioned a quaint, neighborhood spot. And I wanted it to be different than a traditional bakery … smaller, with more of a cafe feel."

Years in the making

"I’ve been working on this business plan for six years," says Sullivan, as we chat about the journey leading up to the cafe. "And I can’t tell you how many copies of it I’ve printed out. All of it still really feels like a dream, even as it’s happening. I feel like I’ve spent my entire life working towards this."

And that assertion is pretty close to the truth.

Sullivan, after all, has spent her life working in restaurants. From the time she was 16, she’s held jobs in the service industry. She’s worked as a server, barista, bartender and line cook. And she’s done those jobs while living in spots like Door County, Minneapolis and Seattle. Here in Milwaukee, she’s best known for her work with Braise Restaurant and Black Shoe Hospitality, where she created some of the city’s best pastries and desserts.

She's also nurtured a longtime love for cafe culture.

"I remember going to Rochambo when I was in high school and college and just really loving the whole feel. I thought it was so cool. And you don’t really have that growing up in the suburbs. So, I always had this idea in the back of my head that someday I’d like to have my own."

It was a passion that was only fueled further when she studied abroad during college and spent a year in Paris.

"I fell in love," she says. "Paris was so walkable, and the aesthetic of each place was so unique, but they were all so simple and elegant."

But Sullivan wanted to open her cafe close to home, close to the neighborhood where she grew up. And for 10 years, she honed the concept for her cafe, scouting out spaces in the area where she’d lived for the first 12 years of her life.

"I grew up four blocks from here, and I loved this place. In fact, I never really got over the fact that we moved. We had lemonade stands every summer, and always played night games with the neighbors … so many memories here."

When asked what her ideal vision is for the cafe, Sullivan pauses.

"The first word that comes to mind for me is community. Especially on this side of town, there are so many chains and big box places, and I think people really crave the experience you can give with a small business. That’s so important. I want people to feel like they’re welcome. And I want to make it a place where people can really gather."

The menu

The cafe’s menu will include seasonal breakfast and lunch items with a focus on fresh, healthy options, such as vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices.

Among morning options will be breakfast sandwiches, including housemade rye bagels with cured salmon, lemon dill cream cheese, tomato, pickled onion and crispy capers ($10) and an egg and sausage panini featuring a slow egg, housemade chicken apple sausage, spinach, gouda, roasted red pepper aioli ($11; smoked tempeh can be subbed out for chicken for $1 more).

There will also be quiche and strata ($7/8), along with an ancient grains breakfast bowl ($10) and steel cut oatmeal served with dried cherries and toasted almonds, as well as a choice of cow or almond milk ($8). And morning bakery items like scones, lemon ricotta muffins, coffee cakes and turnovers will grace a pastry case in the front of the shop. Cinnamon rolls and sticky buns will be staples on the weekend.

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Lunch items will include soups, like rustic tomato or white bean and chicken sausage ($4/6), and salads, like a sunflower chevre salad with arugula, sunflower sprouts, pickled onion, roasted grapes, candied sunflower seed encrusted chevre, honey lemon vinaigrette ($11). Sandwiches will include a smoked tempeh panini with roasted garlic hummus, spinach, tomato and roasted red pepper ($12); a brie and apple panini with arugula, caramelized onion compote and honey drizzle ($10) and tarragon chicken salad with roasted grapes and smoked almonds ($10).

A children’s menu will include offerings like French toast sticks, PB&J panini, and a tomato and cheese panini, all priced around $5.

A variety of sweets will also be available, including strawberry rhubarb galette, wildflower honey and ricotta cupcakes, Earl Grey and citrus shortbread, plus slices of olive oil and strawberry jam bundt cake, and lemon verbena and blueberry layer cake. 

There will also be brewed Anodyne coffee and espresso drinks, Rishi chai and macha lattes and locally made bottled beverages like Tapuat kombucha and Wisco Pop sodas. A curated selection of wines will feature four reds, four whites and rose from sustainable, organic vineyards. The beer list will focus on Wisconsin brews.

And, when it comes to operations, there's a mindfulness in the way Miss Molly's will run. Sullivan, who earned her degree in sociology, says she always had a passion for social justice issues, particularly as they pertain to food. It’s a passion she says will play out in the cafe through an emphasis on composting, offering biodegradable paper products and purchasing local and organic produce.

Beginning July 22, Miss Molly’s will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 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.