By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Aug 30, 2022 at 3:32 PM

Benson’s Restaurant Group is gearing up for the October opening of The Bridgewater Modern Grill, which will be located along the Kinnickinnic River at 2011 South 1st Street in the Harbor District.

It still takes a bit of imagination to envision the new R1VER Campus restaurant, which will seat 165 guests inside and an additional 80 guests on its well-appointed riverside patio. But even through the construction dust, the restaurant is taking shape.

The main dining room, which is swathed in natural light, will offer up an indoor/outdoor feel thanks to walls of operational garage doors, which will open onto the spacious riverfront patio. Flooring will merge tile with dark wood tones, while the color palette in the restaurant will embrace neutral earthy tones including greens, browns and gray.

Dining roomX

The mood, which Benson’s describes as “California Casual” will cater to a wide range of diners, from couples seeking a romantic date night environs to casual boaters stopping off for drinks and a bite to eat. Pricing will reflect the restaurant’s desire to meet diners where they are, whether it be in search of a casual bit or more formal dinner.

The flexible space will also accommodate events with a private dining area (complete with its own section of riverfront patio)

Swing around to the west and you’ll find a modular indoor-outdoor bar which can service both patio and indoor guests with an approachable international wine list featuring around 90 bottles single-estate wines at a wide range of price points, a selection of 8 tap beers (plus plenty more in bottles), a curated whiskey collection and a list of craft cocktails designed with the restaurant’s wood-fired menu in mind.

Bar areaX

Pie-shaped booths in the bar area will accommodate parties between two and eight guests, along with about 10 traditional bar-style seats.

On the menu: Wood-fired fare

Guests seated in the bar area will be privy to a view of the restaurant’s open kitchen which will  showcase the Bridgewater’s custom Santa Maria style wood-fired grill.

Open kitchenX

There, Executive Chef Steve Gustafson will work alongside Benson’s corporate executive chef, Alex Sazama, Gustafson to bring The Bridgewater menu to life. Together, the team will coax flavor from vegetables, herbs and meats, producing dishes like wood-roasted oysters, grilled fish and steak, fork and knife ribs, rotisserie chicken and hearty salads, all using the magic of wood smoke.

“We’re taking carefully sourced ingredients and enhancing them with heat, flame, and coals.” notes Sazama. “And we’ll be using some unique techniques to suss flavor out of ingredients.”

Steve Gustafson
Executive Chef Steve Gustafson

For instance, they’ll prepare winter squash and herbs by hanging them above the grates on the grill where they’ll glean slow, steady heat and a bit of smoke. Some items might be cooked over coals or directly in the ash. 

Sazama says the quality of fare at The Bridgewater will only be enhanced by products from local partners including Rocket Baby Bakery, Hundred Acre, BelGioioso Cheese, Greige Bakery, Mushroom Mike, Valentine Coffee, Best Burn Firewood, Strauss Meats, Great Lakes Distillery, Eagle Park Brewery and others.

In addition to its indoor quarters, The Bridgewater will also boast the longest riverfront patio in the city. Overlooking the Kinnickinnic River, the patio will be augmented by 10 full service boat slips managed by Benson’s Restaurant Group, allowing boaters to dock alongside the restaurant and order food to enjoy on or off the boat.


An accompanying lounge area on the west end of the patio will feature a semi-covered area with couches, tables and fire pits, along with a turf area where guests can engage in yard games or enjoy live music.

Rick Acken
General Manager Rick Acken

The overall Bridgewater experience will be enhanced by service provided by a slate of industry veterans including General Manager Rik Acken, a Benson’s Restaurant Group veteran, previously served as general manager at Swig, Water Buffalo, Smoke Shack and most recently, Onesto.

“Rik is an essential member of our Benson’s restaurant team and there is no better person to lead our newest restaurant than him,” said Chris Adams, executive vice president at Benson’s Restaurant Group. “The Bridgewater will be like nothing our Milwaukee area community has seen from us before. With the longest riverfront patio in the area, ten boat slips, the oak-fed Jade grill and a robust wine program, we’re creating a truly unique experience that we know our community will love in just a few short months when we open.”

The Bridgewater is currently hiring for all positions, including an assistant manager, onsite events manager, servers, bartenders, line cooks, food runners and more. To apply, visit

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.