After almost 30 years of working in the service industry, Richard Kerhin opened his own place, Richard’s Cafe, in early October.
"I got to the point that I was going to own my own thing or get out of the service industry entirely," says Kerhin. "In some ways, getting your first job in the service industry is a mistake because before you know it, you're in your forties – and still working in the service industry."
Richard's Cafe is on the second floor of the Tannery Business Center, 700 W. Virginia St., and serves breakfast items, sandwiches, panini, salads, coffee (including espresso and chai) and a variety of "convenience" items from gum to tampons.
During our visit, we sampled the Revo (which he named after the building owner, Scott Revolinski), a sub sandwich featuring a generous offering of ham, salami, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers and a vinaigrette drizzle. The bread and fixings were extremely fresh and we particularly appreciated that the sandwich had a kick to it thanks to the peppers.
"I wanted my sandwiches to cover all your basic meats: beef, ham, salami, chicken, tuna salad, pulled pork," says Kerhin. "There’s always debate about what’s on a Cuban, so I tried to stick with the ingredients that everyone agrees on."
There is one vegetarian sandwich on the menu – the Caprese – and Kerhin says he is going to develop more veggie options in the future. All of the sandwiches come with potato salad, coleslaw, apple, banana or chips.
Kerhin named one sandwich the "IJT" (for "Intergalactic Jive Turkey") after a guy he saw hanging out Downtown who looked like a "cross between a pimp and a cowboy" and named another one the "Johnny M" after his good friend who also works in the building.
"I wanted to actually go a little weirder with the names, but I’m in an office building," says Kerhin.
Richard’s Cafe offers two soups daily from the Soup Market and has Weeden Creek organic coffee. Breakfast items include bagels, breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal, yogurt, donuts and occasionally cookies or breads.
The prices are very fair – $7 for a sandwich or a panini, $5 for a salad. Sandwiches can be ordered online and Kerhin may have delivery service in the future. Kerhin wanted to price his sandwiches a little lower than his competitors, but hoped that the $7 price wasn’t going to break him.
"So far, so good," he says. "It helps that just my wife and I are the only employees for now."
Kerhin's wife, Patricia Barrera Kerhin, works full time at the cafe. The couple has two daughters.
"We’re hoping this is a starting point and maybe open something bigger down the road. But just getting this under my belt has been quite a challenge," says Kerhin. "I’ve had two days off since the summer."
Kerhin says his brother, Christian (who works in the building), and his father were instrumental in opening the cafe.
Kerhin was born in Milwaukee and grew up in Oak Creek. Today, he lives in the house to which his parents brought him home from the hospital on 50th and Locust Streets. He started his bar / restaurant career in 1987 at Baker’s Square in Greenfield.
"My brother had worked there like three years and they gave him a gold watch or something. They fired me after two months because I was such a jag," says Kerhin.
Kerhin went on to work in many other successful bars and restaurants. He worked in the kitchen at The Pasta Tree, Habanero’s and the now-defunct John Ernst Cafe. He also managed the bar at Izumi’s.
"Management is stable, but you’re not really in charge. You’re really babysitting for the owners and in the end if you want to change something it has to go through a process, especially if you work at a chain," says Kerhin. "I wanted to do my own thing for a long time. The flexibility is really great."
Richard’s Cafe has a small seating area and, in the future, Kerhin hopes to add more tables and hang local art. For now, he’s getting in the groove of cafe ownership, including adjusting to the early morning routine after so many years working nights as a bartender.
"I used to eat lunch at 5 p.m. So getting up so early has been challenging, but it’s ultimately been pretty rewarding," says Kerhin. "At the end of the day I go home and I feel calm. Most of the time, anyway."
Richard’s Cafe is open Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.