The National, 839 W. National Ave., is a cafe and restaurant with a vintage-meets-modern decor and a commitment to sustainability. Most of the ingredients for menu items come from Braise RSA along with other local, organic food vendors. Plus, an on-site herb garden is responsible for the meals' mighty flavors.
The National, open from 7:30 to 4:30 p.m. (8 a.m. on weekends), offers breakfast, brunch and lunch along with a slew of bakery items. The vibe is casual, and now that it has finally warmed up a bit, the patio offers a lush, comfortable setting to converse or daydream. It feels like a friend's backyard.
Recently, a stack of coffee punch cards appeared next to the National's register. Prior to that, the Walker's Point cafe did not have punch cards, so the sudden arrival was a nice surprise. It also made us realize it had been three years since OnMilwaukee.com checked in with Michael Diederick, cafe and owner, and we decided it was time to see what else is new and in store for the popular coffee shop and eatery.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did the coffee punch cards come about?
Michael Diedrich: We offer punch cards now because one of our patron artists asked us to and he designed them for us. He's Jeremy Pettis, you probably have seen his work -- it's awesome! And giving out free coffee makes everyone happy and maybe even a little more loyal.
OMC: How did you decide to offer Anodyne and Metropolis coffee instead of Alterra?
MD: Anodyne is easy -- we've seen the signs that Alterra isn't really in it for their whole bean cafe clients or small businesses in general; they'll open a cafe across the street from you without blinking, so when it was between the name people love and Anodyne, the coffee people love, we chose Anodyne. They have been very supportive.
Metropolis was easy, too. We're friends with Tony and have been working on his website for five years, and they've been burning up and down with amazing espresso and coffee, roaster of the year a few years back, etc. So bringing Metropolis to Milwaukee was great -- nobody really knows them and once you taste it you'll be a fan.
Tony (from Metropolis) also helped us acquire a beautiful – and rather expensive – Faema E61, a reproduction of the machine that all others on the market are a derivative of, and that machine produces amazing espresso. That machine's espresso from Metropolis Coffee really is a treat. You've seen it behind the counter -- it looks like a classic Ford and glows red when it's dark out.
OMC: So how's business going?
MD: Things are going well. We've invested in quality coffee, quality bakery and quality breakfast and lunch, and it's starting to pay off. We've kept our original mission of sustainability -- we still get product from Braise RSA and grow our own cooking herbs and use organic and local vendors, and it makes the food great and people want to make the trek over.
We're also the South Side's non-profit lunchroom -- on any given day there's a few dozen people serious about community rubbing elbows and talking about Milwaukee's problems as solvable, and that was the point of opening the cafe -- do something good for the neighborhood and make it better. And in the summertime the patio is lovely, finally!
OMC: What's next for The National?
MD: As to next steps, for now, we're really getting good at getting our bakery and drinks menu to be top notch, to really provide quality through and through, and fine tune it so we can pay folks more. We've hired a beverage manager who has a ton of experience and really gets quality, and I'm looking forward to whatever concoctions she creates. We gave our baker all kinds of freedom and ideas and he's really made our bakery pretty tasty and raised that bar.
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.