In a world where it’s expensive to run a restaurant due to supply chain issues and rising costs, building a restaurant is equally – if not more – challenging.
Few have felt these challenges more intimately than Chef Barkha Limbu Daily and Jesse Daily, owners of the cheel, 105 S. Main St., who found themselves watching helplessly as the Thiensville restaurant they’d poured seven years into building burned to the ground before their very eyes in November of 2020. [Listen to the Dailys talk about their experience first-hand on the FoodCrush podcast.]
When they released their plans to rebuild the restaurant in February of 2021, there was hope that construction could begin as soon as March of that same year, with a new restaurant rising from the ashes sometime in 2022.
Suffice it to say, those plans did not come to fruition. They broke ground on the project in November of 2021. But, thanks to myriad challenges – from labor shortages and cost fluctuations to weather delays – they were unable to lay the foundation for the building. And that was just the beginning of delay after delay after delay.
In fact, if you’re wondering if the cheel truly will return, you’re not alone.
There have been many moments over the course of the past 8 months when the reality of completing the project seemed as if it might just be impossible.
Challenge after challenge
When the fire destroyed their restaurant, the Dailys were in the midst of expansion. They had announced plans for a four-season patio and rooftop seating. In fact, permits were in hand and the cheel’s contractors, The Brookwater Group, were poised to begin construction when the fire set everything back to square one.
Fortunately, The Brookwater Group was in for the long haul. They assisted the Dailys with the arduous process of gaining approval for entirely new plans.
But, even as they did so, the price of lumber, as well as other supplies, skyrocketed. Contracts dissolved. Suppliers couldn’t hold to commitments. Forward movement was accomplished at barely a snail’s pace.
In November of 2021, one year after the fire, they broke ground on the new construction. The hope was to complete the building’s new foundation before the cold set in. But winter came early, along with freezing temperatures.
When a well of water came rushing into the basement excavation after the old structural load had been removed, and then it proceeded to freeze into an ice rink, they realized they would have to raise the building’s foundation by three additional feet.
They also realized that they would need to wait until spring of 2022 to move forward; it simply didn’t make sense to spend additional money on dewatering, de-icing and keeping the ground thawed enough to work.
A change of plans
Over the course of that eternal winter, they evaluated pricing again and decided to make more changes to the design, shrinking things down a bit and changing over from a steel frame to wooden one.
They also revisited the configuration of the building to accommodate as many cost saving measures as possible.
“We’ve definitely had to change our plans,” Limbu Daily says. “And I’ve had to give up some things that I really wanted. But in order to make this cost effective, we’ve had to make a number of significant adjustments.”
Among the more difficult adjustments was the decision to cut out the commercial kitchen originally planned for the basement, which Limbu Daily hoped to use as a commercial kitchen for both the cheel and other local food businesses.
“That one was tough,” she says. “I had my heart set on being able to pay it forward by helping other immigrants build their food businesses.”
But reviving the restaurant remained the main goal. And the revised plans retained plans for a slightly larger dining room, a bigger restaurant kitchen, a second floor event space which will also accommodate live music and an enclosed, heated patio.
When will the cheel reopen?
Despite a long rainy spring, construction started up again in April of 2022. By May, they were able to make headway on the building’s foundation. And, in recent weeks, progress has moved forward, slowly but surely,
“For a long time now, we’ve been inundated with the day to day and simply staying afloat,” says Chef Barkha Limbu Daily. “But by and by we’ve been able to get excited again. We’ve been able to start planning a bit more. Conversations have started about how we can move forward with the design of the interior for the space…”
As for the timeline, she says it’s still somewhat uncertain.
“If the universe aligned and things went perfectly, it’s remotely possible that the cheel could open in December of 2022,” she says. “But in a more realistic universe, it’s more likely that it will be spring of 2023.”
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.