human interest

Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 6

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Carrie Arrouet - the owner of Lela Boutique, a staple in the Third Ward that arguably helped the community propel into what it is today.

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

I will admit, when it comes to shopping in Milwaukee, my knowledge is a bit limited. I tend to stick to shopping online, or, if the situation unfortunately calls for it, going to the mall. Normally it’s to be avoided, however, because shopping is one of my least favorite things to do. So, when I walk past the stores in the Third Ward on an almost-daily basis, I tend to not even bat an eye to the clothing stores around me.

Lela Boutique, however, always seems to catch my eye. Perhaps it’s the fact that they sometimes do really cool displays outside (with one being an outdoor living room - couches, carpet, and space heaters included). Or, maybe, it’s because Lela has been a name that’s been a part of Milwaukee for quite a long time now.

So, when I got the opportunity to interview Carrie Arrouet, founder and owner of Lela Boutique, I couldn’t pass up the offer. I was incredibly curious to see how she viewed the changes and growth in Milwaukee, and particularly the Third Ward.

Carrie Arrouet: I moved here to Milwaukee by way of Madison in 1995. I moved to Milwaukee, quite honestly, because all of my friends from college got jobs in Milwaukee.

Amy Lancaster: Did you go to UW-Madison?

CA: I did. When I moved here, I got a job with a non-profit – Junior Achievements of Wisconsin – and then that was my home for almost 10 years. I worked as a program manager and asked people for their time as volunteers. I worked with the education community here in Milwaukee. [I went to] the public schools and private schools in the four-county area as well as the businesses in Milwaukee to donate their time and money to go into the schools. So it was a really great training ground and a really great way to get to know a city that I had visited twice in my life before that. It became really apparent to me very quickly that Milwaukee is a great place. Today, still – I love it. I travel now - I have the ability to go to other cities and explore - and I always feel a sense of calm when I come back to Milwaukee. It’s just an awesome place to be.

AL: So, let’s back up a little bit. You said you came from Madison – what are some of the biggest differences you see between Madison and Milwaukee?

CA: Full disclosure – I grew up in La Crosse, and then I went to school in Madison.

AL: Okay, so you’ve been slowly moving east. (laughs)

CA: Exactly! I went from coast-to-coast in Wisconsin. At that time in your life, your life and perspective are very different. Your fabric doesn’t look quite the same as it does after you’ve worked for a few years. I say that a little tongue-in-cheek even; my folks would laugh at that because my parents would say, “Oh, give her some time! She’ll grow out of this persona.” Madison offered a really great eye-opening experience from La Crosse, where I was one of 62 graduating students in my class, and then you move to a place where your sociology class has 250 people. It wasn’t that bad or difficult – you just had to find your crew, your tribe, your people. Milwaukee is very similar to that – it seems very big and very spread out, but there are little communities all over the place. You can plug in pretty easily, and you can find your home really quickly in Milwaukee, whereas if you weren’t involved in academics or politics in Madison, it was harder to find.

AL: So you found that if you weren’t involved in those two big aspects of Madison, it was harder to find your people?

CA: Well, this was after I graduated. When you finish and you’re like, “I don’t get to go to choir every day and talk to my singing friends?” Whereas in Milwaukee, there are many more diverse interests, and you can plug into those interests easier here.

AL: So, before you said you were involved in Junior Achievement of Wisconsin – are you still there now?

CA: No, I now run Lela Boutique in the Third Ward.

AL: How did that get started?

CA: In 2001, I attended a class called, “Future Milwaukee”, which is still around today. It’s now housed at Marquette University. It develops young professionals. It affords them a broad base on how to develop different leadership roles in Milwaukee. At the class, I met a woman there, and we both worked really hard in non-profit. We were really hustling without making a lot of money, and we thought, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this for ourselves?” So then we set out on a mission for a year researching the market and what Milwaukee could use and what it was missing based on our travels to other cities. We landed first on this neighborhood – Historic Third Ward – and then second on the idea of a boutique.

I was not really a big shopper – I liked to shop, but it wasn’t my be-all-end-all. What I did notice in Milwaukee – as a young professional working two jobs to pay off student loans and make a living – there weren’t places to shop for someone like me without feeling intimidated or thinking, “You don’t belong in that store because you can’t afford anything in that store,” and I didn’t like that. So, in traveling to other cities, there were places that had really great vibes for people who couldn’t afford more than a $20 blouse and didn’t feel like they were bothering anyone. That was the impotence for me. I wanted to create a space that feels unassuming, unintimidating, and really approachable for everybody.

Lela became alive and well, with about 85% of the store being consignment. We were able to achieve that dream – being approachable in a really cool neighborhood. Though in 2003, it wasn’t really much at that point. The public market wasn’t here yet, but we knew it was coming, and we wanted to be snuggled up to it as close as possible.

AL: Third Ward is considered a higher-end neighborhood now –

CA: - Yeah, it wasn’t at the time.

AL: And it’s interesting that you got to see that and your business developing pretty much at the same time. How has that affected your business?

CA: We’re in the 300 block of Broadway. When we opened our doors, there was nothing else on our block. It was still functioning as commission row – with stands of produce and fruit vendors from 4am to 10am, and then we would open our doors and be the next wave of activity on the block until close, and then it would be dark. There was no bar or restaurant scene on our block. And then at midnight, they would show up again and start loading up pallets of all the food. All the markets would get all their fresh produce. It was a cool marriage of using our street for different purposes. It was also kind of sketchy! People were unsure if they could park their cars down here.

AL: That is a far cry from what it is now!

CA: Yeah! The perception has changed. When people want to bring their friends to the shiniest part of Milwaukee, they bring them to the Third Ward.

AL: The last person I interviewed, who works with the Third Ward Association, said they do put a lot of money into beautifying the streets and neighborhood, so it sounds like they’ve made quite a difference.

CA: And the public market brings people from all over!

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AL: So let’s talk about Milwaukee as a whole for a little bit. How do you spend your free time here?

CA: I’ve been blessed with an amazing team of men and women that allow me to, despite running a business, have an embarrassing amount of free time in the last five years. I walk my dog, I spend a lot of time with my husband, we go for walks, I’m taking agility classes with my dog.

AL: Where do you take agility classes?!

CA: We go to a place in Oak Creek called Agility Ability – Miss Judy is our teacher! I like to cook, I spend a lot of time researching recipes. I think one of the awesome things about Milwaukee is that there are so many little pockets of resources. You decide you want to cook Thai food  - guess what? You can go to the Asian food market and find all the ingredients you need. Or you go to El Rey and you can find authentic ingredients that you can use to make delicious meals. We do like to travel a lot, but our biggest trip recently was moving from Washington Heights to out west in the suburbs, on a property with a 100-year-old barn, so we’re testing out our abilities to fix floors and restore buildings!

AL: Where else do you like to go in Milwaukee?

CA: We do have some favorite haunts that I think make us seem very old-school Milwaukee, but a great night out for us would consist of going to Elsa’s and having a burger and a martini, or going to Oakland Gyros and having a gyro and then heading to Foundation for a Mai Tai – those are our two different nights out. So you know, food, alcohol – I really do think we have a gem of a city to find the small little haunts. I don’t really need to go to the big, fancy places. I kind of really love that we have neighborhood establishments. If you can seek them out, you can find them. They have really great service, really friendly people, and really good products.

AL: Would you say that Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities? And why?

CA: So, there’s two different perspectives; as a business owner, I attribute a lot of my success to being in Milwaukee; not only in the Third Ward, but also as a whole. The market place is really nurturing. People genuinely embrace the “shop local, support your business vendors.” I don’t know if that’s the case in a lot of cities. I feel really lucky to be able to be a part of that.

AL: And Small Business Saturday just happened as well – did you notice a level of support on that night?

CA: Yeah, it was a very successful event. But I think more than that – Milwaukee embraces that year-round. I appreciate that American Express does this for small businesses. It’s a nice connection to the Black Friday and the Giving Tuesday and the Cyber Monday, and like, “Cool, we should have a day, too.” But – Milwaukeeans are super. They really do seek out shopping local and spending their dollars there. They understand the economics of keeping your dollar in the local economy.

As a personal resident – it’s a crime that it’s such a well-kept secret. We can live on one of the Great Lakes very affordably. I like that it’s a secret because it keeps it available to us all (laughs), but I also want to shout it from the mountaintops. It’s crazy. You talk to your friends that live in high-end places – places where everyone knows it’s lovely to live – and we say, “You know, Milwaukee’s pretty great, too!” I can live a mile away from a Great Lake and I can still afford to go out to eat, and drive a car, and take trips, and I can do all those things you can’t do if you live in some of these more “exciting” or “well-published” places.

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AL: I think maybe the reason Milwaukee doesn’t get as much credit as it should is because it’s in Wisconsin (laughs). Wisconsin has the reputation of Midwestern and, “Hey, I live on the farm” –

CA: The Fonz! And beer and brats! And we perpetuate it.

AL: And as someone who lives in Bay View and drives over the Hoan bridge every day or every night – that view is beautiful!

CA: Yes! It’s spectacular!

AL: And you think, “This is my city!” We have the art museum, we’re right on a lake as you said, good beaches, things to do –

CA: - and you can still afford to go travel. I see people come through every day to my store, who are tourists from big cities – you get San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Denver – and they don’t have the quality of life we have here because they spend a huge amount of their time commuting, or working so they can afford to live in a tiny little one-room apartment. Yes, they get to go out on their sidewalk and be in New York City – that would be great, but I feel really lucky to be here in Milwaukee. We have a lot of things going for us.

AL: Speaking of commuting – how do you feel about the new street car?

CA: This topic is so polarizing! It makes me so sad that it has been so polarizing. I, quite honestly, feel that – as a small business in a neighborhood, it has absolutely increased visibility, and it has absolutely brought more people who aren’t interested in figuring out parking. Now they can park somewhere else and ride the street car. Anything we can do to bring in something new and recreate ourselves is great. I embrace it. Let’s do it.

AL: I’m excited for when they expand it to other parts of the city!

CA: I do hope that its future holds that, and it becomes more of a useful transportation for a market that is not currently able to use mass transportation. We are lacking in that as a city.

AL: The amount of traffic we get for the size of the city is way too much – and I think this is a great solution for that. It just shows there’s potential for more growth. So, my last question – what advice would you give to those who are either looking to move here, or, if they’re already here, get more out of their city?

CA: If you’re looking to move here – I think Milwaukee is an awesome starter city. It’s a super easy place to navigate. People are nice. We do have the Midwestern charm in spades. If you’re coming from a bigger market and you’re concerned about plugging into what looks to be a place that’s fueled on beer and brats – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Give yourself six months, and never go to the same place twice – you’ll be amazed that you won’t have a hard time finding something new to do every weekend. There’s always something new. Again, that Midwestern charm – just ask someone, and they’ll tell you. That’s how I travel when I go to other cities. We flew into Austin last year and we started at the airport and asked our Uber driver, “Take us to your favorite place in Austin.” For four days, we would ask another person where we should go, and we just went around like that. We’ve challenged to do that in Milwaukee now, and it’s amazing! So we have that going for us – our Midwestern charm and our approach-ability.

If you live here, I guess it’s the same advice. If you’re saying, “We only go to Elsa’s every week.” I say that to my husband! I’m like, “Mark, should we go somewhere new this weekend?” Nah, let’s go back and see Steve [at Elsa’s]. Again, just ask, or search for the new things in Milwaukee, or the old things in Milwaukee. Force yourself to do it. We’re getting into shorter days and darker nights, and it’s harder to leave your home after work. But, if you just force yourself to get out once a week – I’m gonna do something completely different from anything I’ve done before – there’s plenty to discover in Milwaukee.

AL: I love that restaurants and businesses are embracing the winter weather – for example, Benelux with the Lux Domes – which I’m so upset that they’re already sold out!

CA: I cannot believe it!

ALL: Even just things like that – we know that winter sucks. It’s great to see people in our community trying to make it better.

CA: Last year, the ice bars – that was a brilliant little setup. You went to Mitten Fest at Burnhearts and then you came up here – it was a magical winter weekend.

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After finishing our conversations and our wine (provided by Thief Wine, which was actually the first time I had been there!), we said our goodbyes. I kind of felt like I had interviewed a local celebrity - as we walked from her store to the market, she would either stop people or people would stop her and say hi. People like Carrie are are the true definition of the community-theme that seems to be brought up by almost every interviewee so far.

Next time you’re in Milwaukee, make sure you stop by her store - and make sure to ask her where you should go next.

Would you or someone you know like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!

Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 5

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Rebcca Button - a “tourist within her own city” who helps makes the streets of Milwaukee better with her direct involvement in the Third Ward Association (and who loves the new streetcar!).

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

I love Fauntleroy. This brand new endeavor by the founders of DanDan has exceeded my expectations every time I’ve gone - the food is phenomenal, and the decor puts me right in France in the 70’s. It’s so refreshing and a wonderful addition to the Third Ward. So, when Rebecca suggested we meet there for our interview, I of course jumped right on it.

A lover of everything Third Ward, you can immediately sense the pride she has for our ever-growing city. From calling her past restaurant co-workers family, to making sure to live in and experience every corner of Milwaukee, Rebecca has done it all - and plans to only continue doing so.

Rebecca: So I have lived in Milwaukee specifically for three years, but I grew up in Mequon. It’s north of the city. We moved here from upper state New York when I was 8 years old.

Amy: Wow, how did that happen?

Rebecca: Well, my parents are actually from Chicago.

Amy: Oh, hitting all the cities!

Rebecca: Right. My father’s a corporate attorney, so he got a job in Manhattan. We were living in upstate [New York] while he commuted an hour and a half each way, which was just murder. I’m the youngest of four kids – he hardly ever saw us. So he did that for about five years and then decided he didn’t want to do that anymore. Too much! He was on the train for three hours a day. It was hard. So, they didn’t want to move back to Chicago - mostly because of congestion - so they picked Milwaukee! So, my father got a job here, in the Milwaukee area, at least.

Amy: So that’s quite a cultural shock going from a city as large as New York to a town as small as Mequon. Was it hard to adjust?

Rebecca: Well, for me, I was 8 years old, and we were living in a small town in upstate New York so that’s why – he was working in Manhattan, and my parents are originally from Chicago, so they are used to larger cities. Milwaukee was a good fit just because of how small it was. Mequon is a great proximity from Milwaukee; it’s about 15-20 minutes. It’s perfect. The commute was a lot better! I lived there all the way up through high school, and they still live there!

Amy: How did you get into the Third Ward Association?

Rebecca: Great question! (laughs)

Amy: Where do you start? (laughs)

Rebecca: A lot of good luck I guess! (both laugh) I come from a hospitality background. When I moved back here three years ago, I moved from Indiana – I went to Southern I.U., and that’s where I met my husband. I graduated in four years and just kind of stuck around like a lot of people do in Big Ten schools. Three years ago, we decided to move to Milwaukee to be closer to my family.

Amy: Is he from this area?

Rebecca: He is not! He is from Sacramento, California. Born and raised.

Amy: How does he like Milwaukee?

Rebecca: He loves it. (laughs) He is definitely a Midwesterner at heart. I mean, there are parts about northern California that he loves obviously, but he really loves it out here. So, when I graduated college, I worked for a publishing company for a little while, but I’ve always worked at restaurants. We actually traveled for a few months before we moved here, so we had like, no money! So, I took my resume and did the face-to-face thing, and I got really really lucky. I walked into one of Milwaukee’s best restaurants – I’m biased – but no, it really is one of Milwaukee’s best restaurants. I walked into Odd Duck; it was amazing they hired me because they usually don’t hire outside people. They’re a very tight-knit community. Odd Duck functions so wonderfully as a family. They saw me, interviewed me, I got hired, and the rest is history. They became my family, too. I had the most beautiful introduction to Milwaukee because of them.

Amy: Do you still keep in touch with them regularly?

Rebecca: Oh yeah, definitely. They’re my favorite. But that’s how I actually know “The Dans” – through them. Dan Jacobs, he was working there for two weeks while opening DanDan. So I know him a little bit!

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Amy: So, how do you spend your free time in Milwaukee?

Rebecca: You know, I’m a spoiled woman because my husband is in the wine business. He’s a certified sommelier, so we – without sounding like a lush – we like to drink! We like to go out and experience new restaurants or meet up with our friends – we go to new places or go to the old staples. So, when we moved here, we lived with our parents for a while. Which was great but – it didn’t last long. (chuckles) We got a great apartment in Bay View and moved there. Just got to really know the neighborhood. We lived about a block away from Tenuta’s – which is such a good place, I love it so much. It’s one of my favorite little neighborhood places in Milwaukee. My husband was working for Groppi’s then, so he could walk to work. We really got to know that neighborhood – lived there for about two years. We decided to move, so we moved to Riverwest, and we love Riverwest.

Amy: It’s interesting that you went from Bay View to Riverwest – usually it’s the other way around.

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s what everyone tells me. (both laugh) Riverwest is great. We absolutely love it. It is a great community; very community-focused. Bay View is like that, too, but the houses are a little bit closer in Riverwest. Riverwest is very block-by-block. We love our neighbors and the community up there. Another place we can walk pretty much anywhere to. We’re in the south part of Riverwest, so we’re in close proximity to the East Side, and Lakefront Brewery is about 10 minutes. I can walk to Brady street in about 15 minutes. We like neighborhood hopping and exploring. We might move in June!

Amy: Nice! Where are you thinking?

Rebecca: The East Side! Maybe the lower East Side? There are little pockets that are so charming. The upper East Side is very charming as well, but there are a lot of residential homes there, and we aren’t looking into buying yet, so we’ll see. We have a dog, so a yard would be nice.

Amy: That’s very unique that you’re spending a couple years in every corner of Milwaukee. I guess since you have been exploring these areas more – do you have any favorite spots in Milwaukee?

Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely! We’ll start in Bay View – Odd Duck. For neighborhood corner bars, we love the Newport. You should go, it’s so fun! It’s close to the dog park. It’s got really great old-school Wisconsin corner bar vibes. It’s got a circle bar which seems to be a cool northern Midwest thing. Burnhearts is great as well.

Amy: Yes! I love Burnhearts. The new patio is so nice. I’m glad they finally did that.

Rebecca: It’s great! It’s so great. There are a few vintage shops. Alive and Fine, and Plume – they’re both female-owned which is fantastic. And they’re recently new businesses too, which is great. In Riverwest – we love Foundation; we walk there all the time. (laughs) We like Centro Café. It’s nice for a glass of wine or a quick bite. It’s really sweet and romantic and intimate. On the East Side, for breweries, we love Good City – it’s one of our favorites. We do like Lakefront. I don’t think I said anything that didn’t have to do with eating or drinking…oh! I said the vintage stores. (laughs)

Amy: So, would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities?

Rebecca: Oh, absolutely. When we were deciding to move, and we were choosing between Milwaukee and Louisville. Louisville is only about an hour and a half away from Bloomington [Indiana], where we were. So it was closer to our friends. It has a great vibe – great food culture, great music culture. We chose Milwaukee because of my family, and we love being near the Great Lakes. They have really similar vibes, though. Milwaukee has this old beer culture, and Louisville has this old Bourbon culture, and a lot of their histories are revolved around that. So they’re similar but different. When you’re in Louisville, you feel like you’re in the south there, even though it’s not super southern. It’s also an older city, so there’s the difference in architecture.

So, why, Milwaukee? One, my family. We love being by the lake. Jerel [her husband] had only been here a couple of times. We just experienced really good vibes whenever we were here. I had moved away from the area when I was 18, so I didn’t really know much about Milwaukee. Thank goodness we did move here, because we absolutely love it.

Amy: Is there anything specific that makes you feel at home here, as opposed to Louisville, or where you were in college – or even in New York where you were growing up as a child?

Rebecca: Well, proximity to family has something to do with that with feeling at home. Actually, circling back to how I got involved with the Third Ward Association – when I was working at Odd Duck, which I loved, it was time to do something new. I had seen this job posting for an administrative position and had a little bit of that background and went for it, and got the interview and dazzled them. (laughs) Even though we built such a wonderful community in Bay View, working in the Ward, and living in different neighborhoods - I feel so much more home in Milwaukee just by having that well-roundedness and being around different kinds of Milwaukeeans – that’s what really makes me feel at home. What is so great about the Ward and my job is that it’s so connection-based. That’s why I loved working in hospitality – you make those connections.

The Ward has developed so much in the last two decades – even in the last five years. It’s interesting to be here now, versus what I heard it used to be like. The association is quite old – it’s one of the oldest associations in the city. It was formed in the 70’s. The powers that be wanted to turn this district into a red-light district. So, a lady who owned The Knitting Factory said, “absolutely not,” so they formed this neighborhood association to put the kibosh to that idea. Ever since then, the association has been championing the neighborhood and trying to make it thrive as this mixed-use, awesome hub.

Amy: So is your job mainly community-based, or do you do volunteer-work, or…what exactly does the Third Ward Association do for the community?

Rebecca: Oh! Big question!

Amy: Yeah, right? What don’t you do would be the better question.

Rebecca: The association is directly connected to the business improvement district – which is a taxing district. Something cool and unique about Milwaukee – it has the third highest concentration of bids in the country, behind New York and L.A.

Amy: What do you mean by that?

Rebecca: So, a business improvement district is a taxing district. Property owners pay a tax, and that tax goes towards street beautification, snow removal – you see all these what we call “Third Ward Green” (motions to street lamps outside) all of these green lights, the arches – all of that money goes into improving the neighborhood. We’re partnered with the bid. The association also does event programming. So, we run Gallery Night and Gallery Day, the Third Ward Arts Festival, Christmas in the Ward which is coming up in a few s,hort weeks – which is my biggest project of the year. It takes months to plan (chuckles) and fundraise for and gather volunteers. We’re a membership-based organization. We started more networking events because that’s what the members asked for – which is all about bringing people together. When I joined the job about 18 months ago, there was a lot of feedback saying, “We want to know our neighbors more. We want to feel more tight-knit and a solid community.” Scheduling monthly meetups is the easiest way to do that.

Amy: So, how does a business get involved with the Third Ward Association?

Rebecca: We have a process; when we know a business is moving into the neighborhood, we’ll make a point-of-contact, either e-mail or face-to-face. Show them our brochure, introduce ourselves and what we do. If they want to join, they join, and if they don’t – they don’t! It’s completely up to them.

Amy: How many businesses are part of the association?

Rebecca: We have over 200 – around 220 businesses. That’s about half. There’s a little less than 500 in the neighborhood. We also have a resident-level. There are still people that we want to come join us – we still have some work to do!

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Amy: So my last question is – what advice would you give to those who are looking to move here, or if they already live here, get more out of their city?

Rebecca: Go explore. Be a tourist in your own city. I have come across many people who live in certain neighborhoods and don’t leave those areas a lot. They’re being loyal to it – which is great, because Bay View is awesome! The East Side is awesome! Riverwest is awesome! Brewer’s Hill, whatever! All the neighborhoods! Walker’s Point! They kind of have trouble getting out of that bubble because of what they’re used to. Go explore; go try new things. Go to a neighborhood that you’ve driven through before and never thought maybe, “Hey, I should stop and check out this restaurant.” There are so many pockets and gems in the neighborhood all over Milwaukee.

Amy: I would attest to that – I was looking for a place to live when I first moved here. I drove through Bay View thinking, “I don’t like the way this town looks. Why do people like this place?” And now I’ve lived there for five and a half years and I absolutely love it. I definitely agree that exploring a place you wouldn’t normally think to go is a great thing to do, and it gives you a new perspective on the place you live.

Rebecca only confirmed what happened to me personally - the more you explore Milwaukee, the more you’ll grow to love it. It has a personality unlike any city, and the people who live and breathe the lifestyle can only attest to that.

We met again a week later to take photos, since our original interview took place during the evening (and we’re in that time of year where if you blink, you miss the daylight). After trying to coax the bartender to join in, sipping on mocktails, and being complemented on her extravagant coat by a passer-by outside, we headed back to our days. As someone who works in the Third Ward, I find comfort knowing that someone like Rebecca is spearheading all the goings-on in our neighborhood.

Would you or someone you know like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!


Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 4

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Madalyn Manzeck - an entrepreneur with a beautiful sense of design, who took her experiences from working in Manhattan to shake up the fashion industry in Milwaukee.

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

It’s not often I get to drive up north past Milwaukee, but when I do, it tends to freak me out a little bit. I find it to be vast and empty, with not much to offer.

Driving to Port Washington, however, is a different story. It reminds me of where I grew up, near Lake Geneva - a gorgeous, quaint city housed right on Lake Michigan with old-world charm. When I arrived here for my next interview, I felt right at home, despite only being here a handful of times. I wanted to stay and explore, but I had work to do.

Luckily, being with Madalyn does not feel like work. I met her a couple months ago after assisting a photoshoot for her latest lingerie collection, which premiered at this year’s Milwaukee Fashion Week to rave reviews. Talking with her felt like talking with an old friend, and I was so grateful to have someone so influencial in her industry be willing to sit down and chat with me.

Madalyn Manzeck: [I’ve lived in the Milwaukee area] my whole life – born and raised here. I’m from just north of Port Washington, from a little town called Belgium. I never say that because people think I’m from Europe (Amy and Madalyn both laugh) “Oh, you’re from Europe!?” “No, I’m just from Wisconsin, not as exciting as that.” I grew up on the lake – on Lake Michigan. My parents have a lake house just 10 minutes north of [Port Washington], but we’ve pretty much done everything, like, south. So, I went to grade school in Port Washington, middle school in Cedarburg, high school in Jackson. Did a lot of extracurricular things in Milwaukee. I’ll say I’m from Ozaukee County and Milwaukee – I’m kind of from all over. I did intern in New York for three months, and that made me appreciate Wisconsin so much more.

Amy Lancaster: Were you in the city?

MM: Yep! In Manhattan. I was interning for Global Brands Group, and they’re in the Empire State Building. So it was like a dream! It was amazing. But, by the end of it, I was like, “I need a Spotted Cow and cheese curds! I need to be able to get in my car and drive to Target!” So it made me really appreciate Wisconsin a lot more. You have to leave and come back.

AL: Yeah, that’s been the general consensus – you don’t know what you have until you’re out of it. “Grass is always greener”. So, is your family from Milwaukee originally?

MM: Mhm. My grandparents live in [the town of] Belgium…Yeah, they’re all from around here. Most of my dad’s side lives in the area, and then my mom’s family lives in northern Wisconsin.

AL: How did you pick Port Washington as your home base for your studio?

MM: It was nice and close – I’m still living at home with my parents so it’s a nice, short commute, which I liked. It’s definitely very affordable. But also Port [Washington] is home. I like being right on the lake. In summer I go out for walks around the marina…and the people here are so nice. My landlords are so sweet – it’s this cute little old man, Don, and Jim, and they’re so sweet. And then everyone up here does something different. There are guys in IT, there are Mary Kay consultants, there’s a yacht designer, there’s a guy who started a business about Bloody Mary mix…literally anything and everything you can think of! So it’s always fun to pop into someone’s place and say, “What are you working on?” There’s a recording studio up here for audiobooks.

AL: Wow – I would have never guessed!

MM: I know! So when I found this I was like, “Oh my gosh! This is so fun!” Because it’s a whole group of creatives and it’s a very eclectic mix.

AL: Nice! So, when you’re not up here working, how often do you get down to Milwaukee for your design work? Do you find yourself down there a lot?

MM: Since starting my own business, I’ve had to keep a mile log and track all my miles. It ended up being about once a week I’d get down to Milwaukee - whether that be meeting with someone, meeting with a client or other business owners for collaboration, or a fashion show or an event. Once I really started getting into it, it was about once a week.

AL: Do you get down to Milwaukee for any leisure time at all?

MM: Yes! I love the Third Ward. That’s my favorite. I love the Journeyman Hotel.

AL: Yes! Have you been on the roof? It’s so beautiful.

MM: Yes! The Outsider. Love that in summer. And then Tre Rivali, the restaurant, is my favorite. But I also love their café. I book all my meetings there.

AL: Really!?

MM: I’m like, “Do you mind meeting me at the café at the Journeyman?” I just love it there!

AL: Is that where we would have ended up if we didn’t meet here? (both laugh) That’s fine with me, it’s a cute café, I love it. My office is right down the street from there, so I walk by it a lot on my lunch breaks.

MM: So we probably would have ended up there. Anything in the Third Ward is fun. Public Market, Anthropologie’s there. The Dry Bar is fun…all the good restaurants, Screaming Tuna. All of it.

AL: Do you have any other favorite restaurants, or businesses, or nature spots in Milwaukee? Anything like that?

MM: I really do like the Blu Lounge at the Pfister for drinks. That’s very fun – it’s very swanky up there. One time I was there, there was a live band playing there. It was the middle of winter and it was cozy and packed and it was fun, so definitely there for drinks. I do like Lake Park – walking around on the trails there is very scenic. I will be biased – I love Kevin – Milwaukee Candle Company for candles! (shows off the Milwaukee Candle Company candle on her desk) Whenever I need candles I always hit him up. I’m like, “Hey, Kevin! Can I stop by and pick up some candles?”

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AL: So I kind of want to bring it back to what your business is about. How did you decide to start your design business in Milwaukee? When did you start?

MM: The idea came that I would officially start at the beginning of 2017. I founded my LLC in April of that year. I graduated [from school] in May 2016 and for a whole year I was working on all of this stuff but it wasn’t official. I was applying for jobs; I was doing alterations and side projects just to make some money on the side and keep up with design work. And then it got to the point where I was having enough orders to turn this to full-time. So it was a very slow snowball effect. It’s catching on by word-of-mouth – “Oh, Madalyn did my wedding alterations or made me a robe for my wedding to get ready in.” So officially in April 2017 was when I started my business – about a year and a half ago.

AL: And you’ve done so much already – you were just in Milwaukee Fashion Week [in September]. How did that go?

MM: It was good! This year – I must have just started a little bit later, so I was literally sewing up until the day before I showed. That was a little stressful, but that’s typical of the fashion industry. It felt really good to put in all that hard work and then see it come to life on the runway.

AL: Was that the first year you were in [Milwaukee] Fashion Week?

MM: Second.

AL: How did the first year go?

MM: First year I think was a bit of beginner’s luck because I had won Milwaukee Fashion Week’s Designer of the Year. That was fun because I had no clue what I was doing – I was going into it like, “I’m gonna make this crazy collection with these big, tulle skirts and these flower crowns!” Ornaments and decorative lingerie – and clearly it was very well-received, so I’m thankful of that. The second year was just as fun.

AL: So, despite only being in it for less than two years, have you seen a difference in growth in fashion in Milwaukee?

MM: Definitely.

AL: What is your opinion of the industry here?

MM: I think I attended Milwaukee Fashion Week for the first time in its second year. So, I wasn’t a part of it at all the first year, I went to watch the second year because one of my friends was in it. I was able to participate the next two years. So, it’s grown a lot. I know they keep having to get bigger venues because more and more people are participating and attending – so that’s great. Again, it is kind of the ripple effect – once someone sees it, they tell someone else, and then they get involved and then it slowly keeps growing. That’s what we want.

AL: And, as a part of a creative industry, too – have you seen growth in that aspect?

MM: Definitely. I would say so. Again, I’m rather new to the whole Milwaukee scene – I was more invested in the Madison creative scene just because I went there for school. I was there for four years, so I was kind of removed from the Milwaukee scene for a little bit. But, once I moved back, I really got involved. There are a lot of creatives here – you just have to look for them!

AL: Instagram seems to help. (laughs)

MM: Absolutely! I’ve found so many people through Instagram, and then – you just send them a message. “Hey, I love your work! I’d love to talk about what you’re doing.” And they’re always so open and willing to meet for coffee. That’s what I love about the Midwest – people are so nice and welcoming and eager to talk. When I was first starting in lingerie design, I reached out to other lingerie designers and some of them were from, you know – England, or New York, or California – and I did get some responses like, “Yes, our owner is very successful and very busy. She doesn’t have any time to talk to you.” I just want to learn! I’m not trying to get your trade secrets or anything! I’m just trying to hear about your experiences. I found that’s the opposite here. Everyone’s very willing to share, and talk and help each other.

AL: Would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities?

MM: Yes, because it’s home. At the end of the day, it’s just fun to come home. It’s great to go other places, and learn about different cultures, and how other people live, and different ways of life, and experience all that. But after a week or so, you’re like, “I just wanna go home!” Whenever I come to Milwaukee, that’s how I feel. Even if I go to Madison for the day. When I come back on highway 94 and I can see the skyline. It’s still fun to see that.

AL: I get that, even when I’m driving home from Madison, I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m in New Berlin now, which means I’ll soon be in the city, and then home.” So I get that. It’s nice – it has a lot of culture and potential to be a larger city but it also so small enough where you can get around pretty easily. So, kind of in the same vein – why would you say you feel at home in Milwaukee?

MM: So I probably am kind of biased because I have been raised here my whole life, but I do think it goes back to the people and how welcoming and warm everyone is. Even with my experience of starting my new position at Foley & Lardner [Law Firm]. I was expecting people to be mean, just because I do watch some TV shows like “Suits” (laughs) - and the lawyers there – granted it’s in New York – they can be pretty mean and harsh, so I was expecting that going into it. I’ve only met nice people. I haven’t met any people that are super grouchy and nasty. Everyone is so helpful and warm and welcoming. And that makes it so much easier – I want to come to work and I enjoy the people I work with. I found that to be kind of a common thread through everything else. And the Milwaukee Fashion Week family – everyone is so nice and warm and welcoming and helpful and you just want to support each other. I think it ultimately comes down to the people.

AL: Absolutely. So, my last question – what advice would you give advice to those who are either looking to move to Milwaukee, or, if they already live here, get the most out of their city?

MM: If you’re looking to move here…I think you just have to understand that it’s a growing city. If you move to Chicago, let’s say – pretty much everything is already there. I think it’s already established. Milwaukee has a lot of potential for growth and room for growth, especially if you're a creative. You’re going to be noticed more here than if you’re in Chicago, or L.A., or New York. I would say start somewhere smaller and really grow, and figure out who you are and what your vision is, and your style – and then once you have that support system, then you’re able to go where ever you want. That’s a positive for creatives. To be honest, social media has been so helpful for me to be able to connect with people that way all from your phone. So, again, I’ve met people from all across the state just through social media. I’ve been able to design dance costumes for contestants competing at Miss Wisconsin and for Miss Wisconsin, who went to compete at Miss America. I’ve done it for a couple of them now, and they’ve lived anywhere from Wisconsin Rapids, to Green Bay, to Madison, so literally they just see my work on Instagram. I would never have had that opportunity if I wasn’t on social media. As annoying as it is to be on your phone all the time, it helps to make those connections and then meet in person.

AL: Anything else you wanted to add?

MM: Hmmm…I like it here. (both laugh) I’m biased, but I did have to leave and come back to appreciate it. I know when I was in high school I was like, “I gotta get out of here, this sucks. I’m going to New York, and I’m never coming back.” And then I did it – and I still love New York – I get the itch to go there every six months. I need my “New York Fix”. But then I’m always happy to come home. People take it for granted how nice it is here, and – again, warm and welcoming, and clean. We have all the necessities here, and a very comfortable way of living.

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After taking a few photos and oohing-and-aweing at her immaculately-decorated office, we wrapped up the interview. She was meeting with a client for a fitting, so I didn’t want to get in her hair. It was hard to leave, however, because the studio, mixed with Madalyn’s cheery and optimistic demeanor, felt so cozy against the sudden drop in temperature outside. This impromptu visit to her space and Port Washington made me eager to come back and experience the city again for myself - all while making sure to stop by to see what progressive, amazing design she will be working on next.

Would you or someone you know like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!

Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 3

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Alan Williams - a wandering soul who came here with his equally-nomadic wife to help improve the quality of life in the theater community and ended up setting roots here along the way.

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

For the past two years, I’ve taken a month-long “detoxing” period from alcohol in October, which I lovingly dub “SoberTober” (this was actually inspired by my friend, Claud, who I interviewed last week). So, going into a bar, despite not drinking, is a bit odd.

This bar, however, makes me feel right at home. Whenever I walk into 42 Ale House in St. Francis - a restaurant for anyone into pop and geek culture - I’m always immediately greeted by smiles and warm faces of those who I have grown close to. I spent two years of my life working here, becoming familiar with being behind the pine, and formulating friendships with people who I otherwise would have never met due to just having different walks of life.

This is how I came to meet Alan Williams, an afficianado of hockey, the fine arts, and coffee with a little bit of extra love in it. After greeting each other like old friends, we made our way to a quiet corner of the restaurant - The “Dota” room (which stands for “Defense of the Ancients” - a multiplayer online battle arena game - the room gets its name due to the official artwork framed on the walls) - a cozy area which is perfect for those looking for a little more privacy to focus on their board games.


Amy Lancaster: So, Alan - how long have you lived in Milwaukee?

Alan Williams: I’ve been here, let’s see, Ben’s 20…(chuckles) So, we’ve been here about 22, 23 years now.

AL: Okay! So your gauge is based on your child’s age? (laughs)

AW: Yeah, that’s about the easiest way to do it!

AL: My parents do the same thing. They’re from England, and they’re like “How old is Amy? Okay, we’ve been here that long.” (Amy and Alan laugh) Could you give me more information about how you grew up here, or how you ended up in Milwaukee area?

AW: Oh, wow. Well, I followed my wife here. We were both up back east in a small community just north of Boston and finished a two-year teaching assignment. She was looking for her next opportunity. She was in educational theater; she knew that’s where she wanted to be, she really liked working with kids, and it probably bears special mention…my wife is…she knew exactly what she wanted to do since she was 12 years old. She knew she wanted to be in educational theater; she knew she wanted to be in children’s theater, and that’s what she’s always done. It’s really great she’s been able to do that. So, the two places we were looking at were either the Seattle-Tacoma area for Tacoma Opera…and First Stage Children’s Theater. The more we learned about First Stage, the more compelling it was, because they had such a great mission statement, and the way they were really going about stuff and the way they were trying to - I don’t want to say “legitimize” children’s theater - but they were really trying to make it a part of the actual theatrical fabric of Milwaukee. It wasn’t like you also had…you know, you have “real theater”, and then you have First Stage. They were actually very respected and that was 20-some odd years ago, and you can see where they are now. So, she took a job as a costume shop supervisor here, and we packed up all of our worldly belongings in a U-Haul van, and that was it. We had never been…we had never visited Milwaukee, let alone lived here, so that was that, and we haven’t left, My God!

This is totally a real candid shot of Alan playing Dig Dug, and not a posed photo at all. But seriously - Dig Dug rules.

This is totally a real candid shot of Alan playing Dig Dug, and not a posed photo at all. But seriously - Dig Dug rules.

AL: What was your first impression of Milwaukee?

AW: So, Milwaukee was the smallest city I had ever lived in by that point, so it was a little bit of a shock initially. Um, and…in “those days” - (chuckles) Gosh, that sounds horrible –

AL: (chuckles) “Back in the day -”

AW: Yeah. “Back then…” We got down here just before a weekend, like on a Thursday or a Friday - and we went to downtown Milwaukee on a Sunday afternoon. It got to be, like, 5 o’clock, and it was dead. We were wondering if there was, like, a holiday or something. We didn’t know…we started to have this, “Oh my God, what did we get into?” moment. Luckily, we were living on the East Side at the time. We were living just off Brady, and it is a really vibrant community over there - really great arts community over there, and it calmed fears pretty quickly.

AL: So, how do you spend your free time in Milwaukee?

AW: What free time? (laughs)

AL: (laughs) When you get any!

AW: I’ve got kids, I’ve got jobs!

AL: When you get that moment away for a minute or two. (chuckles)

AW: We take a lot of advantage of the arts community, and I hate to keep going back to it, but it’s what we do for work; it’s what we do for fun. It’s not just the theater and the music, it’s the gallery scene here. It’s the art museum. It’s the experimental stuff. You know, when we first started working theater in this town, you had Milwaukee Rep, you had Skylight, and Chamber Theatre was kind of the thing, In Tandem was kind of a thing…but now you’ve got companies all over the place. You’ve got great storefront theaters. Mark Bucher may have moved the Boulevard Theatre but he’s still going strong with his stuff. It’s just…and I think that this is a town that really embraces it unlike other places. Being here as long as we have, we’ve seen a lot of actors, local talent, who have done really well in Milwaukee, and they say, “I’m gonna go to Chicago! I’m gonna go to the big city! I’m gonna go to Las Vegas, I’m gonna go to Branson [Missouri]!” Whatever! They almost always end up coming back. They miss how integrated that scene is here, and it’s not as much of a pull for other places, whereas with Milwaukee, it really is one of the crowning jewels that Milwaukee can put claim to. But, you know…the festivals are always great; the growing beer garden culture. It’s interesting too, because we’ve been a growing family over the past 20 years. We’ve taken the boys to different things and engaging with different sides of this city over the past two decades has been very incredible. When they were young, it was maybe Betty Brinn, or maybe Discovery World, or maybe the zoo, but now it’s a much more family-friendly city than it used to be.

The most encouraging mug in the joint.

The most encouraging mug in the joint.

AL: Where are some of your favorite spots to go to? Favorite restaurants, outdoor areas, parks, museums?

AW: Since we live down in the Bay View area, Humboldt Park is practically our summer home. Everything goes on down there. They’ve maintained a great outdoor concert series there over the summer – Chill on the Hill – and then in addition to that, in the fall you’ve got the Pumpkin Pavilion and you’ve got movies out there on the hill, and all sorts of great activities. Petit Ice Center…we frequent the Petit quite a bit. We try to hit just about every major maker show or convention that comes through. The State Fair grounds, um…but as far as favorite places? That’s kind of hard; we try to spread our love around as much as we can. (chuckles)

AL: That’s good! (laughs)

AW: Years ago, I would have told you we spend all our time at places like County Clare because it’s close to the house and that’s what we did, but now you don’t have to go far to find a great watering hole or place to hang out in this city. It’s hard to pick a favorite, really.

AL: This seems pretty consistent with the other interviews I’ve had where it always seems like there’s somewhere new to go as far as restaurants or bars.

AW: Yeah! Growing up in New England as I did, we come from a very big brunch culture, right? Brunch for us [in Milwaukee] used to be going to Ma Fischers out on Sundays because – well, it was open. Well, now, it’s a thing, right? 52 Sundays in a year, you can go to 52 different places if you really want to. And that’s something we’ve enjoyed doing - exploring new places in this town where we’ve lived for over two decades.

AL: So would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities?

AW: Well, it kind of defaults to it! (chuckles) I don’t think Jodi [Alan’s wife] or I imagined we would be here as long as we have been. We were both very nomadic growing up, bouncing all over the place, in my case from New Orleans all the way up to Halifax, so it’s kind of interesting that we’ve put down roots in some place like this little community. Definitely when we stray someplace, when we visit other places, we find ourselves really happy that we picked our home.

AL: Yeah, I was gonna ask- now that you’ve lived here so long and you go to see other cities – how does it compare?

AW: It’s interesting. I’d be lying if I said if some magic opportunity came in Boston or Cambridge would I not be enthusiastic about it. Of course I would. But it’s really fascinating how much this city has matured over the past couple of decades and how it feels like it’s become more of a city. I think part of that has to do with living in Bay View, which is an honest community. It’s more affordable than most places we’ve looked at – and it’s kind of incredible when I’ve got friends and relatives in other places that are stressing over finding an apartment for under $4,000 a month, or trying to find a reasonably priced home under $300,000 or something like that. I’m a guy who’s about to have two mortgages and three cars and two kids in college and – we’re doing okay. It’s not like we’re upper class – I know it sounds kind of funny to think about it – but we manage. We manage on a teacher’s salary and a recruiter’s salary. So, it’s doable in the Midwest in a place like Milwaukee.

AL: Plus you still get the benefits of the culture in a bigger city.

AW: I think so, I think so. Let’s face it – it’s close to other places, it’s not a bad skip to Minneapolis, and it’s by no means hard to get to Chicago and enjoy the wonders of Chicago for a day. It’s five hours away from Indianapolis. There are a lot of options when you live in a place like this.

AL: So, would you say you feel at home here, and why?

AW: Both of my boys were born here, and it’s something that Jodi and I talked about quite a bit before they came along – something she and I never had was that stability. Not that we didn’t have love or a home – but we never knew when the next time we were gonna move was gonna come. For Jodi, it could have been as little as a couple months. Same for me. You feel like you bounce around your entire childhood. So, when the boys came along, we wanted to make that conscious effort. We wanted to give them something more stable. We wanted to give them a home base, so no matter where they go to, they can say “Milwaukee is home.” I kind of feel like there are several cities that I can call home, but now it really does feel like Milwaukee is home.

AL: Were you considering other [places to live] when your children were born?

AW: Oh, I think so. For the first several years after the kids were born, we looked very strongly at going back east because that’s where our family is. There’s something to be said to having that connection, to be able to be close to them, and giving them the same type of experience that we did growing up. That would have been great! But there’s no way we could have afforded the home that we have [in Milwaukee] back east, or anywhere - not even Jersey, for crying out loud. I don’t think that we would have been able to give them the same type of opportunities that they’ve had here. And, I really don’t think that it would have been…the overall scope of their experience would have been better had we gone someplace else. And they have the benefit of saying, “I’m from Milwaukee.” We used to joke, you know – “Made in Milwaukee”, which is a very American term. That’s my boys. “Made in Milwaukee.”

AL: What advice would you give to those who are either looking to move to the area, or, if they already live here, get more out of Milwaukee?

AW: I think what really flipped the switch for me was keeping an open mind towards things. With everything this city has to offer, and as eclectic and as accepting as this city can be – unfortunately, there are parts of this city that don’t have those qualities. I think you’d find that in any big city. Unfortunately those divisions of Milwaukee can be kind of…stark? And it can be kind of, quite damaging. You have to keep an open mind though. Not only with the people you meet, but the places you go. We first got to this city – a friend of Jodi’s from high school grew up in this area, and we asked him, “Do you have any advice for us?” And he said, “Beware of any streets named after a tree or a president.” That was 23 years ago and I still hear that today. Some of the best restaurants I go to are on such streets. Some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered are in such places. And really, the only divisions that are going to mean anything to you are the ones that you’re going to put up there yourself. It’s a very open city if you allow it to be.

AW: I think in terms of, when you look at a city like Milwaukee, one of the things I think is really funny, especially from living in other places, is people here tend to have maybe not the greatest opinion of their own city. They feel like they’re not a world-class city. I’ve met people else where who say “I’m from Chicago.” Whereabouts in Chicago? “Oh, north of Chicago.” Oh, where north of Chicago? “Well, Milwaukee,. I’m from Milwaukee.” That kind of points it out. You wouldn’t hear that from someone who’s from the Bronx or Brooklyn. They would own it. The people who live here – they need to own the fact that they’re here. When they start doing that – when you start taking that pride of ownership and you start taking that pride in your community – that’s what makes this community better. If you’re constantly thinking, “How can I get out of this community”-

AL: - You’re not benefitting this place or yourself.

AW: - Or yourself! That enrichment can come from anywhere, but it means something much, much deeper when it can come from the place you call home.

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After finishing our chat, we went back to the bar for a tad longer before parting ways. I really enjoyed my time talking with Alan - and I learned aspects of his life that I never expected him to experience.

The biggest takeaway, however, was our last segment of conversation - where ever you live, own it. Love it. You’re there at this moment in time for a reason. Make the most out of your town, suburb, or city, and it will give back to you as much as you give to it.

Alan, despite spending a lot of his time in Boston area, is happy to be in Milwaukee, and is proud to call himself Milborn-and-Raised.

Would you or someone you know like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!

Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 2

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Claud Kling - a Sheboygan-area native who back in college wouldn’t even drive to Milwaukee but now calls it her home - and Eric Strackbein - a native of Milwaukee county, who recounts his childhood memories here and relives them with his fiancee.

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

Autumn in Wisconsin can be very fickle. Within the same week, residents can see an 80-degree day with a clear sky, followed by a 40-degree day with a chance of snow. This day in particular, when I decided to walk to Colectivo in the heart of Bay View, it was a perfect, movie-like fall day. Originally, I was going to catch a ride with the two people I was interviewing, because we are all Bay View locals, but after seeing all the color and beauty, I had to make my way outside.

I made it to Colectivo shortly before Claud and Eric arrived, and once we ordered our drinks - Claud, a hot tea; Eric, an iced SportsTea; and I, a warm latte with almond milk - we made our way upstairs and managed to snag a table right by the window that looked at the main intersection of Bay View down below.

Eric was one of the first people I met when I moved to Milwaukee, and Claud and I, despite knowing each other for a while, only became close within the last two years due to our love of cats, obsession with Studio Ghibli, and the fact that our birthdays are four days apart. Once catching up with one another, I got into learning more about their experiences here in Milwaukee.


Amy Lancaster: How long have you two lived in Milwaukee?

Claud Kling: I’ve been here a little over five years now.

Eric Strackbein: I’ve lived in Milwaukee county my whole life. I’ve lived in the city of Milwaukee for, like, the last 15 years.

AL: Where did you move from, Claud?

CK: I’m from Sherman Center, Wisconsin. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Milwaukee. I had just finished college and I moved back home for a little bit, and one of my friend’s was moving from Pennsylvania to Milwaukee and needed a roommate.

AL: Cool! And you [Eric] have pretty much been born and raised in Milwaukee county, - where in Milwaukee county did you grow up?

ES: I grew up in Franklin, a suburb of Milwaukee. I went to MPS school district. My family would go downtown a lot when I was little to go to Summerfest or to go see fireworks, so when I was little, my favorite part was to go downtown. I always asked to go downtown on the weekends. My parents liked to go do stuff down there too. It was fun.

AL: And two met in Milwaukee, right? How did you two meet each other?

CK: Uhh, OK Cupid! (laughs) Our first date was at Bar Louie in Bayshore. I hadn’t moved to Milwaukee yet and he lived in Milwaukee, so it was like the halfway point for the two of us.

AL: And now you two live together, for how long?

CK and ES: (look at each other) I think three years? Yeah, three years.

AL: Why did you choose to live in Bay View?

CK: Eric really likes downtown. I’m from a very quiet country town, and Bay View kind of spoke a little bit more to that side. It’s still busy, but it’s not like down on the East Side or on Water street.

AL: Yeah, I always say Bay View is nice because it still has a lot of life, but it’s far enough away where you can be away from the busy stuff but close enough to get downtown if you really wanted to.

ES: It’s pretty close to where we both work, too. I wanted to be downtown because I work directly downtown, but the pricing was better here, too.

AL: How do you spend your free time in Milwaukee?

CK: I go to a lot of concerts when I get the time – I work a lot. I do like the Summerfest venues. I do like the Pabst a lot, actually. I do end up going to The Rave a lot because that’s where everybody goes to perform, but I did like The Pabst and Turner Hall when I’ve gone. Other than that, we go to a lot of Brewers games. We’re going to the playoff game on Saturday.

AL: I can’t believe that’s a thing that’s still happening! So is this post-season?

ES: Yeah, it can go ‘til the end of October if we go to the World Series. This is probably one of the best seasons we’ve had. The last time we went was 2011. The Brewers have never won a World Series. One of six teams in the country that has never won, and one of the oldest teams that’s never won, so it would be pretty neat!


I always found it slightly adorable when sports fans referred to their favorite team as “we”. It’s never “they”. As someone who has very little interest in sports, I never have fully understood the loyalty that exists between a sports fan and their team, but I can admire and respect it.


AL: What else do you like to do? Where else do you like to go?

ES: I like to ride bikes downtown. It gets a little dangerous sometimes I think, (laughs) but there’s a lot of trails so as long as you can figure out the trails you can avoid a lot of the danger.

AL: Yeah, the biking is really good in Milwaukee isn’t it?

ES: It’s getting a lot better. When I was younger I didn’t know about all these trails and I think they’re just doing a better job of promoting it. You see a lot more bike paths that there weren’t before, all the bike lanes that didn’t exist, like, ten years ago. They’ve been really proactive on trying to bring cycling in and making it more popular.

AL: They have the bike rentals popping up everywhere too, I’ve noticed, which is awesome.

ES: Yeah! I also just like to try out new restaurants. We spend a lot of time doing that. We’re always hearing about a new restaurant that opens or a new thing being served at a restaurant and we go do that.

AL: What’s the latest restaurant that you went to that you liked?

CK: I just tried Dan Dan’s dinner service for the first time and that was really, really good. I really want to go to their new French restaurant that they just opened, it’s called Fauntleroy –

AL: - I went there maybe a month ago, it’s really good! I love it.

ES: There’s like a Cuban fusion place on the East Side. I don’t know the name of it, it just recently opened. I think I went, like, a month ago? It was really good!

AL: Surprisingly there’s a lot of cultural variety when it comes to food in Milwaukee, which is really cool. Are there any spots that you haven’t been to yet that you want to check out?

CK: I’m sure there’s like, a thousand restaurants. I still need to take [Eric] to Tandem; that’s a really nice Milwaukee gem.

AL: What’s Tandem?

CK: Tandem is a restaurant that’s set up just outside of the East Side. I believe it’s on Fond Du Lac? It’s a company that got started employing people directly from that area. So it’s a lot of people who have never worked in a restaurant before, lots of kids…and it’s so good. Their fried chicken is better than anything I’ve ever had before. Their staff is really nice and friendly. It’s a really great local restaurant that’s using the roots of the community to promote and make things happen, which…working at Honey Pie and doing the local Milwaukee vendor events, it’s always nice to see another restaurant that’s trying to branch into the community a little bit more, too.

ES: I always like to take Claud to places that she’s never seen, because there’s still places that she goes to that she’s never been but I’ve been to as a kid, so I knew of it. A lot of trails downtown. When we went to Denver and went hiking Claud said to me, “I think I actually want to go on more hikes!”

CK: Yeah, I might actually like the outdoors now….


This is funny for anyone who knows Claud - the amount of allergies this woman has surpasses anyone I’ve ever known.

AL:  I want to do something with the ducks, since they’re this Colectivo’s staple.  (walks to fountain and grabs a rubber duck)    CK:  What is happening?   ES:  I don’t know.

AL: I want to do something with the ducks, since they’re this Colectivo’s staple. (walks to fountain and grabs a rubber duck)

CK: What is happening?

ES: I don’t know.


AL: Have you hiked at the Urban Ecology Center?

ES: I’ve done that!

AL: Oh, it’s so cool! It’s so weird because the main entrance is on the East Side, but you go from, like, the East Side neighborhood into this forest just out of nowhere.

CK: Really?

AL: Yeah, and there’s a river running through, and there’s a big bike trail. It’s a really cool place to go hiking.

ES: They have a lot of big bike events there. When I go biking on Tuesday nights, they’ll end the trail there and you can do stuff at the Ecology Center after.

CK: Is that where Tippecanoe [Herbs and Apothecary] does that herb walk, too?

ES: It might start there? Because it’s pretty dense forest for being in downtown.


After filling Claud in on the best hiking spots in the city - which sounds conflicting because one wouldn’t think hiking was available in a city - I got to the main crux of our conversation.


AL: So, would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities?

CK: I would definitely say it’s up there, for sure. I really like living here. I like still being closer to a city that’s not too big for me. (chuckles) I like it a lot. I never honestly thought I would live down here. I thought it was too scary for a very long time. When I was in college, I was in Mequon and if people would go down in Milwaukee, I would refuse to drive or I just wouldn’t go. That was known through my college friends and friends outside of school – “We’re going to Milwaukee, Claud’s not going to drive down.” Like I’m 87 or something.

AL: And now you fit right in!

CK: Yeah. I’m still not great at driving here at all, but –

ES: - She’s pretty good. (Claud and Amy laugh) She’s definitely a lot better –

CK: I almost hit him on one of our first dates with my car.

ES: I was walking across the street –

CK: I was driving to meet him at my apartment –

ES: I was like, a block away –

CK: I had to slam on the brakes –

ES: I was like, “Is this person gonna stop at the stop sign!? Because I’m walking right through – oh, hey!” (laughs) That was fun.

AL: Would you say you two feel at home here?

ES: I do, yeah. Growing up here, everywhere I go there’s a memory, so it’s really comforting to see that, and I’ve been to a lot of other cities and nothing has convinced me that I want to move yet, other than the weather factor.

AL: When you go to other cities, what do you notice missing there, that’s here?

ES: I look for the same feelings that I get in certain areas of Milwaukee where I feel comfortable, or the people are nice enough, or it’s accessible. There’s a lot of cities where you don’t get things in a 10-mile radius. You could go to LA but you’re driving an hour, two hours to get out somewhere. Same thing with New York - it’s gonna take you an hour to get from one side of Manhattan to the other during certain times of the day. Even though I love Manhattan, I would want to say I would move there, but it would be trying. It would be a very different cultural experience to actually live there than what I’m used to. It’s like we get pieces here from different areas that I like. I think that is part of Milwaukee – the culture is implanted in different areas and then it starts to mix around. When you go to New York, there’s an Italian community – and that’s kind of all you get in that area. There’s 20 pizza places or 20 old school Italian restaurants in one spot. We have those restaurants here but they’re all over.

AL: So it seems like no matter where you go in Milwaukee, you can still get a little bit of everything.

CK: Mhm.

ES: Yeah, exactly.

AL: So my last formal question is what advice would you give to those who are either looking to move here or, if they’re already here, get more out of the city?

CK: There’s so much free stuff. (Amy laughs) I get a lot of people at Honey Pie that are coming from or going to the airport or trying to plan their trip and they always ask what they should do. There’s always some sort of festival going on - whether it’s going to be one of the cultural festivals or a music festival, or the China Lights at the Boerner Botanical Garden. Also, I think the art museum is first Thursdays are free, the free museum day is the first Tuesday, free zoo days…a very overlooked aspect of Milwaukee is the brewery tours, we have a ton of them and there’s good aspects about each of them. We also have a cheese tour at Clock Shadow Creamery that’s only, like, 5-7 dollars I think? So that’s something I always tell people to do. Because people always think “Oh, Milwaukee, beer, we wanna hit all these tours” which is great, but…there’s also cheese tours.

AL: I actually didn’t know they did that, so that’s good to know! (laughs)

CK: Oh, they do that. (laughs)

AL: So you would say take advantage of the opportunities the city has to offer, because no matter what day of the week, there’s always something new to do.

ES: We always make the best of every season. When you go out on the weekend in other cities, you don’t have a festival every single weekend of summer. You can always find some sort of block party or festival because they know they won’t be able to do this all year and they want to take advantage of it, so there’s something going on.

AL: Even in winter, there are still festivals.

ES: Yeah, even in winter. There’s still a lot of stuff. And then you have Bucks games and that entire section is a party section now. There’s still stuff to do in winter – it’s just colder.

CK: Even if you’re not somebody who likes to go out to festivals, there’s so many yoga studios, or different types of fitness classes or health classes, or you can go to a class like at Tippecanoe [Herbs and Apothecary] –

AL: Yeah, I actually really enjoyed going to that. I love that there are hidden gems and stores that are doing, like, a Tuesday herb class. or a Thursday meditation class.

CK: Yeah, and – I’m not sure if it’s all of Milwaukee county or just Milwaukee - but someone puts out a seasonal recreation guide.

ES: - I think it’s Milwaukee County Parks, it shows you –

CK: You wanna knit? You can knit.

ES: Or art classes!

CK: You wanna sit and talk with a bunch of people about your cats? They probably have that, too! Or you can just come over to my house and talk about cats, that’s fine. (laughs)

ES: I think a lot of people in Wisconsin that aren’t from Milwaukee, they’re always scared of here –

CK: Oh, I was terrified –

ES: - Because it’s like, the big city of the state. We’re not Chicago or Detroit. We have crime problems, but most major cities have crime problems. They have a stigma of that, and there’s so many good things you can do – the crime sucks when it happens, but that’s not the majority of what happens here. (laughs)

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After hanging out a little longer and filling each other in on the latest Netflix documentaries, it was time to head home. Unfortunately, I got caught in the sudden torrential rainfall (remember what I said earlier about autumn in Wisconsin being fickle? It can happen within the same day), but I didn’t mind. I had walked away from a very insightful conversation with two people who were able to find their home, their passions, and each other in Milwaukee - and that’s a silver lining to any storm.

Would you like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!

Milborn-and-Raised: Episode 1

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#Milbornandraised is a campaign run by Milborn Advisors to reach out to the people that make Milwaukee great. This week, we interview Taylor Katz, a budding photographer who moved here from Chicagoland thanks to the support and convincing of her Renaissance Faire friends.

Interview and photography by Amy Lancaster.

I walked into La Finca in St. Francis on a warm and beautiful Sunday fall morning. The familiar aromas of Mexican coffee beans filled the air as Bjork and other calm new-wave music played in the background. The café was bustling this morning with young business women, tapping away on their computers; families with small children enjoying breakfast and hot chocolate; and older residents, enjoying their weekly ritual of seeing friends every weekend morning for current event chats over a hot cup of joe.

It was clear why La Finca was the choice of location for my interview with Taylor Katz; not only is it her favorite coffee shop, full of rich cultural history and uniqueness, but it symbolized what she loves about this city and the surrounding areas - the people are diverse, friendly, and have stories to tell.

After somehow missing each other and waiting at separate tables for about 10 minutes, I gathered my things and joined her for breakfast as we both laughed about our odd mishap. We chatted about goings-on in our lives - because I had met her through another friend of mine who I used to work with at the restaurant right across the street, we had our own rich history to catch up on with each other.

Eventually, we guided the conversation to her story about how she came to Milwaukee two and a half years ago.

Taylor Katz: It’s a long story. Um, I grew up in the Bristol Renaissance Faire basically. I made a lot of connections through the Ren Faire…I guess there’s a short version and a long version. (laughs)

Amy Lancaster: (laughs) As many details as you want to give - it’s all appreciated.

TK: Basically, I met a lot of people, I spent a lot of time there, a lot of people lived in the area, and a couple times that I have visited…I liked the way I felt. It just felt kinda right.

AL: Where are you from originally?

TK: I grew up in Plainfield, Illinois, which is a south east suburb of Chicago. And then I went to school in Indiana, and now I’m here. The Ren Faire is just in Kenosha, so it kind of…everyone kind of filtered in from the Chicago area and the Milwaukee area so when it came time to move, there were a lot of people from the Milwaukee area that I met through Bristol that were like “Hey, we can get you connections, we can be your references, we can give you more information”…so, I reached out to someone that worked in the area and literally just asked “Hey, is your company hiring?” (laughs) And it all worked out. I also had started dating someone that lived in the area, so I moved in with him and his parents when it was time to start the new job. Saved up for a year and then got my own place and…now I’m here! (laughs)

We drank a lot of coffee this morning. Perhaps this was why there was so much laughter.

We drank a lot of coffee this morning. Perhaps this was why there was so much laughter.

AL: So how do you spend your time in Milwaukee? What do you like to do in the city?

TK: When people come in from out of town, I always go to the brewery tours. It’s kind of the staple.

AL: What are your favorites?

TK: I’ve been to Lakefront [Brewery], like, ten times now. (laughs)

AL: Really? That’s awesome! I haven’t done that one yet.

TK: My entire cabinet at home, like all my drinking glasses are just pints from Lakefront. Honestly, it’s the only brewery tour I’ve done! (laughs) But I just keep going back. The tour guides are hilarious. They’re obviously like, theatre people or something. They’re great. The food is really good - their cheese curds are my favorite.

AL: I didn’t even know they served food.

TK: Oh my god! Yeah, they do Friday Fish Fry with polka music. It’s like family style seating where they just have long picnic tables and you just, you can sit next to a complete stranger –

AL: - and be their best friend by the end of the night.

TK: Yeah, it’s so fun! And then the beer itself is good. I’m not much a beer drinker, but…

AL: You’ll drink theirs.

TK: Yeah. It’s a good bang for your buck, it’s like 10 bucks for a tour and you get like 20 oz of beer.

Beer is, obviously, Milwaukee’s claim to fame. Despite the copious amounts of tours, however, it is common for people - tourists and locals alike - to have their favorite that they just keep coming back to.

TK: [I also like to go to] Brewers games…I’m involved with Milwaukee Symphony…I mean, it’s not quite free time because it’s a commitment, but there’s that whole thing.

AL: Kind of in the same vein, do you have any favorite places to go? Whether they’re businesses or restaurants or even just favorite outdoor areas in Milwaukee you like to go to?

TK: I have a couple favorites. This is one of them - La Finca. I like the atmosphere and the people, all that jazz. 42 [Ale House]. There’s also a really great place in Pewaukee that’s right off the river, lake, whatever it is. (laughs) Right off the water there’s a dock that goes out and you can sit out on the patio and it’s my favorite summer place to be and it’s called “Edgewater”.

AL: Ok! I’ve heard of that!

TK: I love it so much! (laughs) And the whole Pewaukee beach area is really nice. I didn’t go this summer, but I kept telling [her boyfriend] Bryan I need to take him – “Let’s go to Edgewater! Let’s watch the sunset!”

AL: Are there places in Milwaukee that you’ve heard about that you want to go to, that you haven’t tried out yet?

TK: Yes…the Axe bar sounds really fun. You pay for time to go in and throw axes. So, you get to drink and throw weaponry around.

AL: (laughs) That sounds really dangerous!

TK: (laughs) It sounds really dumb, but it also sounds like a blast. What else…this is kind of a cliché place but I’ve never been to Discovery World. I don’t ever really think I’ve walked around in the Calatrava…the art museum? I get lunch there, it’s one of my favorite lunch places. Their food is so good, but in terms of walking around and looking at the art –

AL: It’s really cool! They do a Lakefront Art Festival every year –

TK: I went to that this year! But again that was all outside! (laughs) So yeah, actually going in and walking around in any of the museums I haven’t done. I’m sure there’s a million and ten restaurants.

AL: Yeah, the restaurant industry is booming right now here.

TK: Yeah, there’s a lot of different places, lot of variety.

AL: So would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities? And why?

TK: I like that it has the perks of being a big city – the diversity and the different theatre and music and food and people and all of that. It has the perks of being a big city, but it has the comfort of being a small town. That’s really it. I mean, I came from the Chicago area and I’d go to downtown Chicago and I always felt like I had to look over my shoulder when I’m walking around. I don’t have that feeling here. I’m very relaxed, it’s very comfy.

And then, of course, I had to ask the question.

AL: Why do you feel at home here? Why are you Milborn and Raised?

TK: I think it really boils down to the people. Anywhere you go, the people are what make it a home versus a place you’re just living. And in general, there are very few people that I’ve met here that I don’t like in some vein. Everyone’s temperament is a little calmer. (chuckles)

AL: Even like, in comparison to a suburb of Chicago?

TK: Yeah. I came from stereotypical white picket fence, every-house-is-the-same-model-with-a-different-shade-of-beige kind of neighborhood. So, that in itself has its own issues, being a poor girl in a wealthy suburbia. (chuckles)

AL: I know the feeling. (chuckles)

TK: There’s more walks of life around you up here, and so there’s a lot more understanding. There’s a lot more people you can relate to. It’s also one of those cities where whatever you need at the time, you can get. You can go to the beach, you can go into suburbia, you can have that downtown, metropolitan feel.

AL: It has a little bit of everything.

TK: Yeah, and it’s all within 20 minutes of each other. You can go to a dive bar, you can go to a Brazilian Steakhouse.

AL: What advice would you give to those who are looking to move here, or, if they’re already here, get more out of Milwaukee?

TK: I think some of my best interactions and experiences, not just at 42 [Ale House] but everywhere is talking to people at bars? (laughs)

AL: Just be friendly to people at bars! (laughs)

TK: I’ve met someone…I’m like a half hour away from my apartment right now. I met someone at 42 [Ale House]. She sat next to me at a bar. Just kind of casually started talking to me. I found out she lives in the building next to mine. And now we’re, like, good friends! We hang out, she’s my neighbor. It’s one of those…I don’t know. I went on a date once where the guy I went out with, he and I spent more time talking to other people at the bar than we did to each other but it was a really good date. It was fun! There’s just something about just chatting with people, and so many people are willing to actually have that casual conversation when you’re out and about, and I think some of the best experiences I’ve had around here have been just from talking to strangers. (laughs)

AL: So be open to meeting new people, I guess, because…they might end up being your neighbor! (laughs)

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The morning progressed closer to noon, and our cups slowly became empty. After having a heart-to-heart and excitedly dishing our future plans to each other, it was time to say our goodbyes. Taylor made her way across the street to her favorite bar, and with that, I felt a stronger connection akin to what she mentioned earlier - in order to get the most out of this city, take your time to know the people who live in it. Whether they are a stranger, an acquaintance, or a close friend, any conversation you have with a tried-and-true Milborn-and-raised individual will be well worth your time.

Would you like to be interviewed next, brag about your favorite city, and gush about how you’re Milborn-and-raised? Fill out our contact form with the subject #milbornandraised to be considered!