After an uphill journey of getting financing and making renovations to the building, The City Market and is now seeing customers flock to the street's new upscale bistro at 527 E. Silver Spring Drive.
It has been roughly two years since cafe co-owners Jeff Swanson and Julie Hollingsworth put a bid on the building, and in that time, they went through nine loan rejections and have reshaped the building and made extensive upgrades to a building that was once considered beyond repair, Swanson said.
Once they obtained financing, they began construction in September 2010, and after all of their hard work, they are finally in the swing of things.
“I guess the best things are worth waiting for,” Swanson said with a laugh.
Looking back, Swanson said they were not necessarily looking to open a new cafe, but they loved the high-profile space on Silver Spring Drive.
“We weren’t looking to expand, especially with the banking climate the way it was, but the space chose us," he said. "It was a horrible building but a great location. If we had waited, what would the second choice be? I can’t think of one."
Business started with Shorewood cafe
The City Market's opened in 1996, followed by a on Watertown Plank Road in 1999 and another Wauwatosa cafe on North Avenue in 2006. The Whitefish Bay location is the cafe's biggest space yet, seating 140 people in an outdoor patio and inside a 4,600 square foot space. By comparison, the main level of the Capitol Drive location is 3,700 square feet.
In the first week, the cafe saw an overwhelming number of customers come through the door as they got the hang of a new computer system, a new space and learning to anticipate how much food to order to meet the consumer demand.
“I’ve never had an open like that. It was the perfect storm," Swanson said. "We apologize to customers for the horrible first week. I feel bad for those that were served improperly.“
Not that he is complaining about customer volume. Swanson said he is thankful the community has embraced the restaurant, and the employees are learning to cope with their growing pains and improving customer services.
Just two restaurants on Silver Spring
With the closing of El Guapo's, the restaurant joins as the only other food establishment on the street. Swanson said the increase in dining options is a welcome change for the street.
“When one more opens, I think it expands the market," he said. "I look over (at Bruegger's) and their patio is just as busy as ours."
While the Capitol Drive cafe is only three miles away, Swanson said the new cafe is seeing more customers from the North Shore area, while the Shorewood location draws more from Shorewood and the East Side.
The Capitol Drive location is still the hub of all of the cafe's bakery operations, which is kept busy by serving the four cafes and 26 different wholesale accounts, including and . Swanson said the bakery operates all day every day, stopping only for six hours during the holiday season.
Baked goods and fresh food are close to the heart of Swanson, who was trained as a pastry chef and worked in similar upscale cafes in New York for 10 years. He studied food science at Michigan State University.
The cafe makes almost everything from scratch, including pastries, sauces, salad dressings and granola. Swanson said he tries to rely on pre-packaged mixes and food colorings as little as possible, which means he scours wholesale vendors seeking hard-to-find natural ingredients.
"Everything here is fresh, homemade and preservative-free," Swanson said.
Baking from scratch, building from scratch
Formerly home to Giraffe and Mike Crivello Camera Center, The City Market also had to start from the ground floor in renovating the new space on Silver Spring Drive. They put in new utilities, including new electrical, gas and plumbing.
In the back portion of the restaurant, the floor had to be lowered by 20 inches. Swanson said he went through several contractors who advised against the measure, suggesting instead that he install a 20-foot long ramp to meet ADA requirements.
“A big delay was being told we could not lower the floor,” he said.
Once the floor was lowered, workers had to adjust the windows by cutting through concrete to maintain the appropriate window height. They also readjusted the shape of the building, straightening out the east side of the structure that was once angled. Swanson said the original footings were in place, so he thinks they may be restoring the building to its original structure.
“That was a huge project, to actually change the façade back to the way it was,” he said.
The blue walls and black and white paintings was designed by co-owner Hollingsworth and her friends.
After renovating the basement and the ground floor, the upper level is now in the process of being renovated into several suites. Swanson said he already has several interested tenants.
"This is the next project we're working on," Swanson said.