In 1991, Ken Felten and Tom Falk opened a business and aptly named it TomKen's Friendly Fried Chicken, 8001 W. Greenfield Ave. The corner bar and grill quickly became known as the go-to place for fried chicken – receiving numerous food awards – and continues to have the same reputation today.
Felten passed away 10 years ago; however, his wife Michelle continues to operate the business today with help from their three children. Gina serves as the bar manager, Brad is the lead bartender and Brian is the kitchen manager.
Brian – who started out as a dishwasher at TomKen’s when he was 15 – graduated with a culinary degree from Waukesha County Technical College and went on to work with chef Andrew Tenaglia at Lagniappe Brasserie in New Berlin.
"I learned everything from Andy," he says.
Brian also cooked at Milwaukee Chop House, 633 N. 5th St. While working at other restaurants, Brian continued to help out at TomKen’s and, about six years ago, decided to introduce a Monday wing night.
"I started out with a couple of homemade sauces and boom, it took off to what it is today," says Brian.
TomKen’s 50-cent wing night is now every Monday and Thursday starting at 4 p.m. Brian has created more than 350 sauces which he rotates spontaneously from week to week. On Facebook, he goes by "Flying Brian The Wing King" and promises sauces from "mild to wild."
Brian also created a build-your-own taco night on Wednesdays called "Nacho Average Taco Night," the Friday "West Allis fish fry" featuring New Glarus beer-battered fish and homemade potato pancakes and a 501 Club steak sandwich – which is a tribute to the 5 0’Clock Steak House, 2416 W. State St. in Milwaukee.
Because of the popularity of the restaurant, TomKen's will undergo a major renovation and expansion project that started quietly this week and will, hopefully, conclude in October.
Raylyn Contractors and Consortium Architects are doing the design and build-out.
Brian says the business may be closed a couple of days during the renovation, but he does not expect it to close long term.
"It’s moving along very quickly," he says.
The business will expand into former living quarters to the south of the restaurant and include a new kitchen that’s 3 1/2 times the size of the current one. The bar and seating areas will also be expanded and the bathroom will be updated and ADA compliant.
The new kitchen will allow Brian to further expand the menu, although he does not plan to move away from his current offerings.
"TomKen’s will always have chicken, wings and tacos," he says. "But I have a few more tricks up my sleeve."
Brian says the success of his business is due to the quality and affordability of the food. "I don’t open cans of sauces," he says.
Brian and his wife, Megan, grow almost all of the business’ tomatoes along with many of its vegetables and herbs in raised beds.
"My wife and her family have always been excellent gardeners," says Brian.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, TomKen’s will host the 10th annual Ken Fest, a tribute Packers / block party in honor of Ken. The event features screening of the Packers vs. Bears game, live music, games, food and beer starting at noon and going until 8 p.m. or later.
"It’s a lot of fun and it’s for my dad," says Brian.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.