Currently, the building at 105 S. Main St. in Thiensville, is under construction. Paper covers the windows, which are etched with the message: "Cheel out… we’re coming soon."
And that’s because, beginning this July, the building will house The Cheel, one of the area’s only Nepalese restaurants.
The restaurant is owned by Jesse Daily and his wife, Barkha, who is a native of Nepal and whose family recipes will make up the bulk of the menu.
"It’s a flavor altitude," Barkha says when asked how she would describe the cuisine. "We will focus on seasonal small plates focusing on traditional Nepalese, Burmese, Tibetan and Northern Indian cuisine. I call it flavors from the Himalayas to the Rockies."
The restaurant’s signature dish will be momos – traditional Nepali dumplings, which will be served with a variety of sauces, including Kenama (fermented soybean sauce) and at least six Achar (grilled tomato sauces) including sesame and Szechuan pepper.
Momos will come in three varieties, lamb, beef and vegetarian, along with specials which might feature duck or variations like "cheeseburger" and dessert dumplings in a variety of flavors. The Cheel will also offer the dumplings cooked three ways – steamed, baked and pan fried.
Other dishes will include lamb meatballs encrusted with nuts, fried okra, a variety of fritters, and Fing, a Burmese gluten-free vegetarian salad made with bean threads, eggs and chile paste.
"Boar is popular in Nepal, so we’ll also offer dishes like ‘boar in a blanket,’" Barkha says. "And there will be our takes on familiar dishes as well, such as a signature BLT with a special Nepalese sauce."
Barkha says that she’s excited to share the flavors of her home country with diners in the Milwaukee area.
"I grew up in Kathmandu," says Barkha. "My mother taught me to cook when I was 7 or 8 years old because in Nepal it’s common to have arranged marriages, so she was preparing me to be a good wife. I didn’t like that, but I did love food."
When Barkha came to Wisconsin to attend Lakeland College in Sheboygan, she missed the flavors of home.
"They talk about the freshman 15, but I lost like 20 pounds. I did not like the cafeteria food. I thought that peoples’ palates must be so bland."
She searched for traditional ingredients to make foods that reminded her of home. But ingredients – like Timur (Nepal pepper) and Jimbu, a dried aromatic herb that resembles grass, but tastes of onion – were often difficult to procure.
"I went to Asian and Indian stores, but sometimes I couldn’t find what I was looking for," she tells me. "So, I’d go to Chicago."
Her cooking was ultimately the catalyst that brought her together with her husband Jesse, a Boise, ID native who moved to Milwaukee to attend MSOE.
"When I met Barkha … she’s beautiful, but it was her food and cooking that really attracted me," Jesse says. "The first time she came over to my house – we weren’t even dating yet – and she checked out my refrigerator."
The contents of Jesse’s fridge must have passed inspection, because soon the two were cooking and eating together on a regular basis.
"We love cooking together," she goes on. "We put music on and dance. He’s my sous chef. Cooking brought us together."
The couple ultimately settled in Thiensville, where they both started consulting businesses and got involved with the local neighborhood association. One connection led to another, and the husband and wife team ultimately took over running the Thiensville Farmer’s Market.
But, it wasn’t until a fortuitous day, as the couple walked down Main Street, that they got the idea of a new business. Their eyes rested on a majestic old building which, despite its placement on a main corner in town, was vacant and in disrepair.
"It was really falling apart," Jesse notes. "It had been vacant for three years. When we looked into it we found out that the building had been condemned, and the owner didn’t have the funds to make the necessary improvements. So, we worked with the property owner to put him in a position where he could sell it to us."
The property, built in 1890, was originally a home, but in 1932 was converted into a saloon and brothel and then a bar and restaurant. And the Dailys say that it’s important to them to maintain some of the building’s history.
The name of the restaurant, The Cheel, means "The Eagle" in Nepalese. So, the Daily’s have contracted with local bronze artist, Allen Caucutt, to create an eagle that will sit atop the building.
"The idea is that the eagle will be watching over the village," says Jesse. "And it’s very symbolic. The Village of Thiensville has been amazing when it comes to supporting us in this endeavor. From businesses, other chefs, other business owners. Helping, giving us resources. It’s fantastic."
According to the Dailys, the restaurant’s décor will be simple but elegant – focusing on red, white and black, with metallic accents, including Nepalese accessories in copper and bronze, as well as a copper topped bar and tables in the bar area.
"We see this as the sort of place where people will hang out, chill out, socialize," Jesse goes on. "Our goal is to be a three-star restaurant with five-star food and five-star service."
In addition to food offerings, The Cheel will specialize in craft cocktails with names that evoke events from the 1930s.
"We’ll be infusing our own vodkas, gins and brandies," Jesse notes. "We will also make our own sour mix."
Barkha, who says she crafts all of her spice blends by hand with whole spices, says that she foresees that the restaurant will be filled with the smells of freshly ground spices, with bar staff helping out by grinding spices for the kitchen.
The restaurant, which seats about 60 inside, will accommodate 90 during the summer months thanks to the addition of an outdoor patio. Pricing is expected to fall between $7 and $14, with entrees priced slightly higher.
The Cheel is expected to open to the public on July 19.
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.