When the plant-based restaurant, Celesta, closed its doors on Milwaukee’s East Side this past May, it left behind a void in its wake. But new owners hope to reinvigorate the space with a breakfast and lunch spot that caters to vegan diners.
The Lafayette Place is the name of the new restaurant, which is expected to open in late summer or early fall at 1978 N. Farwell Ave.
Behind the new concept are Angie Wierzbinski and Amy Plennes, owners of The National Cafe, 839 W. National Ave., the welcoming Walker’s Point cafe that’s drawn a loyal audience with its eclectic menu of breakfast, lunch and brunch items.
And the two owners hope to make just as much of a splash at The Lafayette Place, which will offer a similar, but entirely plant-based menu of breakfast and lunch options in a distinctively different environs.
When opportunity knocks
Plennes says that opening a second restaurant was definitely in the long-term plan for the two owners, but it was a challenge they didn’t expect to tackle for a number of years. However, when the opportunity arose to take over the former Celesta space on Farwell, she says it was tough to turn it down.
“The more we discussed the idea, the more we really liked it,” she says. “And we really fell in love with the space. I really love the aesthetic of the building and the neighborhood. And Angie loved that the kitchen is so much bigger than what we have at The National.”
Wierzbinski nods in agreement. “It has a very different feel from The National, which is more of a destination spot,” she says. “The East Side has way more foot traffic, and you always see people out and about or walking their dogs."
Wierzbinksi says she also loved the idea of being able to branch out and create a spot that really focused on plant based fare.
“There aren’t very many vegan brunch spots in town,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed cooking tasty vegan food at The National, and there’s been a really high demand for it among our customers. When we run vegan specials, they always sell out. So I’m excited to really commit to that direction for The Lafayette.”
As for the name, Wierzbinski says it just made sense for their second restaurant to be named for its place in the world. So, much like The National Cafe (located on National Avenue), The Lafayette Place will reflect its location at the intersection of Farwell Avenue and Lafayette Place.
The accompanying logo, designed by Jason Ludtke of Mild Tiger, was created with that in mind using graphic elements inspired by the word Lafayette, which is derived from the Occitan words la faieta, and is used to describe a beech forest.
What to expect
Wierzbinski says the menu at The Lafayette Place will, in some ways, reflect the offerings at The National Cafe.
“We’ll have burritos and sandwiches,” she says, “Plus vegan versions of items like The Full English. We want it to be a mix of really healthful vegetable-based fare, as well as items that really fill that comfort food niche.”
On the menu, guests will find established breakfast favorites like The National’s number one selling Vegan Brekkie Sammy featuring a toasted pretzel bun, hash brown patty, vegan sausage patty, melted vegan cheese, guacamole and chipotle sauce.
But there will also be Cheesy Hash with house potatoes, roasted vegetables, chorizo, melted cheez, avocado and chipotle sauce, as well as a bagel sandwich with spicy turmeric tofu, eggz, Impossible breakfast sausage, cheez, Roma tomato, avocado, garlic and mayo.
Sandwich options will include favorites like The Chorizo Joe, a plant-based take on the sloppy joe which features housemade chorizo bathed in chipotle barbeque sauce and topped with pico de gallo, avocado and garlic mayo and served on a toasted bun.
New items will include the Southern Soy Boy featuring blackened soy curls piled high on a baguette with pickled onions, cucumbers, arugula and spicy garlic ranch.
Guests can also expect a menu of refreshing smoothies with flavors like blueberry muffin, banana chai and peach-basil, plus a full menu of cocktails, including vegan bloody marys and mimosas and non-alcoholic options including kombucha and drinks made with Anodyne Coffee.
“We’ll also be watching what people order,” she says, “And seeing what people in the neighborhood really want and adjusting things from there. I anticipate running regular specials to try out new dishes as well.”
As for the look and feel of the space, Plennes says they’ve already begun working on the transformation, which will reflect a crisp, modern vibe with a color palette that focuses on blue, gold and white.
She says she’s been grateful for help from friend and interior design guru Melony Pederson, who was able to meld both owners’ personal styles into one cohesive look and feel. Meanwhile, she says her cousin Jeremy Calteux, an electrician by trade, has been instrumental in executing their vision and transforming the space with tile and eye-catching accents.
“I like to think of The Lafayette Place as a little more elevated in comparison to The National,” says Plennes. “It’s more refined, very clean and crisp. Modern. These are sister restaurants, not identical twins.”
Once open, The Lafayette Place will start off with service five days a week, Thursday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. with additional days added as demand and staffing allow.
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.