By Trisha Young Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Mar 16, 2024 at 1:01 PM

In a neighborhood struggling with access to healthy food, Maurice “Moe” Wince and his Sherman Park Grocery Store have been called a lifesaver.

Wince and his wife, Yashica Spears, the store’s co-owner, saw this as they observed people stopping at surrounding gas stations to purchase unhealthy snacks like chips and Twinkies.

“I’ve lived my whole life in this city. Now we have a unique opportunity to change the narrative of the environment here by providing food access and education,” he said.

Nestled in the heart of Sherman Park at 4315 W. Fond du Lac Ave., Sherman Park Grocery Store has become a popular destination for those in and around the neighborhood since opening its doors last year.

Wince said his business is one of the state’s only full service African American-owned grocery stores, which he believes reflects the possibility to transform Milwaukee.

Reinvesting in Sherman Park

Embassy Center MKE, formerly Parklawn Assembly of God Church, Wince and other community members made it a priority to meet with residents and local and state officials to address ways to improve amenities in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The scarcity of healthy food options in the area was a major concern.

The conversations came about after the neighborhood’s 2016 civil unrest following the shooting death of Sylville Smith by a Milwaukee Police officer. 

From these conversations, the idea for a grocery store was born.

Sherman Park Grocery Store became a brick and mortar investment in the neighborhood in July 2022, led by Wince, Embassy Center MKE and other community leaders.

The store has eight employees and also works with organizations such as Employ Milwaukee to hire employees. Employ Milwaukee is a federally funded, local workforce development board that serves Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee's food deserts

Wince became familiar with the needs surrounding food access in the city through Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, food pantries and local meal programs. He also is a graduate of Feeding America’s Food Leaders Lab.

Wince said he also was familiar with the needs of Sherman Park, where he has spent much of his life. 

His efforts are much needed.

According to a Milwaukee Fresh Food Access Report, in 2019, Milwaukee had 13 food deserts, which are mostly on the northwest side.

A food desert is an area where residents struggle to access affordable and nutritious food. And if one lives further than a half-mile from a grocery store, they are in a food desert, based on data from the USDA. 

Monique Evans of Mo's Sweetside LLC
"The events and community that Sherman Park Grocery has brought to the neighborhood has united residents," says culinary artist Monique Evans of Mo's Sweetside LLC.

Addressing challenges to food access

The Sherman Park Grocery Store saw almost 4,000 of its neighbors within its first 30 days of opening, Wince said.

Despite the grocery store’s success in reaching underserved populations in Milwaukee, like many small grocers, it now faces the challenge of dwindling FoodShare programs post pandemic.

FoodShare is Wisconsin’s name for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and historically referred to as “food stamps.”

Wince said many customers are unable to afford to buy the same food in the grocery store as they did before, which makes it more difficult for the store to remain profitable.

“The food assistance programs are shrinking, but the need hasn’t gone anywhere,” Wince said.

To address the ongoing needs of food access, Sherman Park Grocery Store operates Feed My Sheep Global Services, a nonprofit offering assistance through gift card purchases for essential groceries such as eggs, bread, milk and produce.The gift cards are used when people find themselves short of money at the cash register. 

Nesha Beamon, of Pound for Pound Cakes by Nesha LLC
Culinary artist Nesha Beamon, of Pound for Pound Cakes by Nesha LLC, wraps up fresh pound cakes at the UpStart Kitchen.

Wince is also committed to supporting aspiring, young entrepreneurs in the community.  

One example is UpStart Kitchen, 4325 W. Fond du Lac Ave., a culinary incubator located next door to Sherman Park Grocery.

Founded in 2020, the Kitchen serves as a launchpad for culinary artists such as Monique Evans, the owner of Mo’s Sweetside LLC, and Nesha Beamon, the owner of Pound for Pound Cakes by Nesha LLC, along with 17 other culinary artists.

Many of the artists sell their goods at the grocery store.

“This kitchen and grocery store are a lifesaver for me,” said Beamon. 

For Beamon and Evans, the collaboration between UpStart Kitchen and Sherman Park Grocery symbolizes community resilience and togetherness.

“The events and community that Sherman Park Grocery has brought to the neighborhood has united residents,” Evans said.

Added Beamon, “I’ve seen neighbors I didn’t know were my neighbors coming together at this grocery store.”