Riverwest Co-Op cafe will close, at least temporarily

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A cornerstone restaurant in the heart of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood is closing later this week, possibly permanently. The cafe that is part of the Riverwest Co-Op grocery store plans to serve its last meals on July 10 due to ongoing financial issues.

A steady stream of customers visited the cafe on Sunday, ordering popular vegan and vegetarian dishes such as the Phamous Philly, Sloppy Jones and Ultimate Vegan Biscuit. Many ate their meals at an array of tables set up on the sidewalk outside the cafe on the sunny morning. Some arrived on bicycles and left with their take-out meals.

Despite the outward signs of a thriving business, a post on Riverwest Co-Op’s Instagram account later Sunday exposed some unwanted news. The post began with the following message announcing the closure of the cafe: “Goodbye coffee…for now.”

Co-op operators raised hopes in the message that the closure could be temporary.

“It is with heavy but hopeful hearts that we have to announce the closure of the cafe from Monday July 11th. We sincerely hope that this is not a ‘goodbye’, but a ‘so long for the moment”. The post goes on to state that the Co-Op “will put all of our energy into pivoting our operations in hopes of securing the future of the Co-Op grocery store.”

The co-op operates a grocery store that shares space with the cafe in a historic building on the corner of West Clarke and North Fratney streets that once served as Schlitz house tied. The business sits across from the Falcon Bowl, which is also in transition following the retirement of longtime owner Lyn Okopinski in June and the sale of the building, built in 1882, late last year .

Pancakes from the Riverwest Co-Op Cafe; Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Funding is being sought to bridge the gap “between where we are today and where we need to be to keep the doors of the co-op open,” the message reads. “Unfortunately we have carefully reviewed the numbers and found it impossible to continue to have regular coffee service.”

The co-op said it plans to keep the cafe space enabled and is considering partnerships with other businesses to offer contextual meals of the cafe’s favorite menu items, baked goods, takeout and more. .

“We hope that with all the influx of energy right now, we can put a plan in place to reinvent and reopen the cafe in the future,” the post read.

The The grocery store opened in November 2001 and the cafe was launched in 2004. The cooperative offers organic, local and fair trade products and operates as a community organization, owned by members and managed by volunteers.

On Monday, supporters held a pop-up fundraiser in support of the Co-Op.

West River Currents, a free newspaper that has long served the community, highlighted the co-op’s struggles in its July edition. Publisher Vince Bushell, a longtime Riverwest resident, said in a note on the newspaper’s front page that the co-op “is in financial trouble.” Bushell helped start the Riverwest Co-Op.

“While I am certainly concerned, I am not a decision maker for the (Riverwest Co-op),” Bushell wrote, noting that he resigned from the Co-op’s board some time ago.

In his editor’s note, Bushell wrote, “I can promise that Paula Gelbke and I will try to find the best community use for this beautiful building in a wonderful location.

Bushell and Gelbke bought the building the co-op is in to get the business started and running more than two decades ago.

The co-op encourages residents to volunteer on a committee or in the store while it solves its problems. Anyone interested can email [email protected].






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