By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 21, 2016 at 3:01 PM

For the 10th straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2016."

Thanks to a partnership with the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, Kohl’s employees have a new space in which to enjoy breakfast and lunch. The Kitch, a modern eatery and gathering place, opened Tuesday at the Kohl’s Corporate Headquarters in Menomonee Falls.

The 32,000-square foot restaurant, which was designed for Bartolotta’s by Amber McCracken of Kahler Slater, features a multi-faceted dining area that seats more than 700, and a multitude of dining options.

"Fundamentally, there’s a shift in the marketplace when it comes to the recruitment and retention of employees," says Joe Bartolotta of the Bartolotta Restaurant Group. "Companies like Kohl’s, he notes, are asking ‘What can we do for our employees to make this the best place possible to work?’ And places like The Kitch are part of the answer."

The Kitch, short for kitchen, is also a sort of "kitschy" space, Bartolotta says. The logo itself is a throwback to the original Kohl’s branding, which possessed a similar look and feel. But, that’s as far as the space goes in reminding Kohl’s employees where they are.

"There’s no Kohl’s branding in the space," notes Bartolotta. "And that’s purposeful. It’s a place where employees can escape, get away from their desks and recharge their batteries."

A coffee bar called "The Barcode" offers up a full range of coffee and espresso drinks using Valentine coffee, as well as a combination of baked goods made by Bartolotta's and Grebe's Bakery.

Food and beverage stations include burgers and custard from Northpoint Grill, tacos and burritos, pasta, salad bars, artisanal sandwiches and carved meats, Asian stir-fry, Hissho sushi and ramen, and a variety of grab and go food and beverage options. Indian entrees are also available, thanks to a collaboration between Bartolotta’s and Alamelu Vairavan of PBS’s "Cooking with Alamelu."

In some ways, The Kitch is all about the details. Take for instance the Pizzeria Piccola station, a Wood Stone pizza oven features mosaic tilework completed by Joe Bartolotta himself.

A special doughnut station features fresh, hot mini doughnuts (both vanilla and chocolate), along with freshly baked cookies on Thursdays (a tradition carried on for years at Kohl's).

Throughout the space, there’s evidence of both creature comforts and sustainability. Tables are powered so employees can plug in their phones and laptops. Wi-Fi offers everyone the opportunity to stay connected. Meanwhile, 16 televisions allow employees to sit back and unwind.

Food is served on ceramic plates with flatware, replacing the waste generated by paper and plastic utensils. Composting and recycling bins allow employees to dispose of food and beverage refuse in keeping with Kohl’s sustainability initiatives.

"Kohl’s is the best partner we’ve ever worked with," says Bartolotta. "They fully embraced the ideas we brought to the table, and with their help we were able to create a space that goes well beyond the functionality of a regular cafeteria space."

Seating is varied, offering up a combination of communal tables and long lighted hi-tops built by Design Fugitives, along with booths, lounge chairs and traditional seating.

Rather than solid walls, dining areas are separated by open dividers which house decorative items and plants.

Private dining spaces like the library (pictured) can accommodate meetings and special events, offering up interior garage doors which close to provide privacy.

High ceilings provide depth and dimension to the space. In one area, the dining room even connects to the second floor offices via a decorative staircase.

An outdoor patio space on the west side of the building accommodates al fresco dining on clement days.

"This is just phase one of an overall campus invigoration project," notes Rick Schepp, chief administrative officer for Kohl’s. "We let Joe [Bartolotta] run with his ideas for the space, and this project has gone beyond what we could’ve imagined. We’re reimagining what this campus can be and focusing on making it a place where employees can thrive. We want to be their employer of choice."

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.