All small businesses want to succeed financially, but one Milwaukee restaurant isn’t only about making a profit. The mission of The National Café, 839 W. National Ave., is to improve neighborhood health by buying fresh ingredients from local producers.
Former owner Michael Diedrick sold the café to Nell Benton in November. Benton bought the café, originally valued at $32,100, for a mere $100 after agreeing to a few stipulations, including that, like Diedrick, she would be involved in the Walker’s Point community.
Benton took ownership of the café Dec. 1.
“Usually when I tell people I bought the place for $100, they say ‘I’ll give you $150 for it!’” Benton joked.
Benton said she loves owning The National Café because she can express her love for cuisine and community at the same time.
Tiz Michael and Michelle Mattson were very impressed after their first visit to the café. Mattson is employed in the area and decided to visit the café after The National catered lunch at her workplace.
“It’s a really unique selection and everything is so fresh,” Mattson said.
The National Café participates in the Braise Restaurant Supported Agriculture program. This program was created to make local produce easily accessible to area restaurants. Benton also hopes to partner with an urban rooftop farm being built in the area.
She recently visited Sweet Water Organics, an urban farm located in Bay View, and began purchasing fresh tilapia there. Benton said she plans to add a tilapia dish to the café’s menu.
“I think we need to support the local economy as much as possible and anything that I can source locally, I will,” Benton said.
The National Café also contributes to the neighborhood in other ways. Benton is in the process of developing a sliding pay scale that would allow neighbors to come in once a week and eat a nutritious meal as an alternative to mass-produced food.
The National Café has donated food to local nonprofits such as Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach, Core El Centro and the VITA program at Journey House.
The café also offers space for area events. The National is a gathering place for multiple book clubs, the Wisconsin chapter of the Herb Society of America and a monthly Thai cooking class taught by Benton.
“I love teaching others about Thai food, and how easy it is to prepare and also how healthy it can be,” Benton said. “I plan on teaching more classes and also may bring in some chefs to teach their specialty.”
According to Benton, many of the café’s regulars are neighborhood residents or employees of businesses in the area.