Around a table in the kitchen of Walnut Way Conservation Corp. sit a restaurant owner, local produce provider, pastor, Walnut Way board member and other residents, all sampling potential menu items for a proposed fresh food restaurant in Lindsay Heights.
The café, a Walnut Way and Fondy Food Center for-profit business, expects to specialize in smoked meats and serve locally grown healthy food. This big step for Walnut Way is part of an even larger strategy to strengthen the community’s infrastructure as part of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative Lindsay Heights Quality of Life plan.
“There’s more residual (benefits) than food itself,” said Larry Adams, environmental steward and board vice president at Walnut Way, 2240 N. 17th St. The restaurant will be a source of healthy food, but also provide a way for people to develop skills to live better lives. The café plans to hire Lindsay Heights residents, specifically those reentering the workforce. Some staff members will be trained in administration, learning how to hire and fire, and manage customer service and employees. Others will be trained to cook, wash dishes, serve customers and bus tables, acquiring skills to find permanent employment and earn a decent living.
According to the quality of life plan, of the residents who are 25 and older living in Lindsay Heights, 45 percent have not earned a high school diploma, compared to 25 percent in Milwaukee.
Young Kim, executive director of Fondy Food Center, 2242 N. 17th St., selected Peter Kwong as the restaurant consultant for the café. Kwong has more than 30 years of experience in the food and restaurant industry.
Kwong will develop the café’s business concept from start to finish, establish and implement systems, create the recipes and train staff. Walnut Way plans to hire a restaurant manager, while Kwong will continue as a consultant to the business.
The menu will feature meals that are familiar to the Lindsay Heights community and reflective of its culture, such as grits, Southern-style scrambled eggs, Cajun blackened-catfish sandwich, gumbo, and rice pudding.
The entrepreneurs, neighbors and Walnut Way community partners were asked to grade the presentation, flavoring and value of the menu items to help fine tune the café’s business concept and niche.
Kwong presented several food items to the group. The samplings included grilled smoked pork chops with hash browns and scrambled eggs, frittata with diced smoked ham, and smoked bacon and sausage.
The new fresh food restaurant is expected to fulfill three community goals: improving the diversity of businesses along a commercial corridor, providing healthy food options and teaching self-sufficiency through lifelong learning. There is no set date for the café to open for business.
Kwong said the next steps are to secure a location and confirm the menu. “Everything is healthy, delicious, fresh and grown locally,” he added. “Even the smoked products are made here in Wisconsin.”