Chad Meier was done with the restaurant business last year.
Meier had owned and operated the Milwaukee eatery Meraki since 2014 with his wife Malissa, but the pandemic forced his global fine-dining restaurant out of business in July 2020. Meier said that he learned a lot running Meraki but became disillusioned with fine dining.
Since closing Meraki, Meier tried to focus on projects unrelated to restaurants. But an innocent meet-up with a friend who worked at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee pulled him back into the restaurant world.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee announced Oct. 19 that it will open a new cafe within its office and studio space in early 2022. The establishment is the brainchild of a collaboration with Meier, initiated when the chef met 88Nine Development Director Maggie Corry for coffee.
“I’ve been a big supporter of Radio Milwaukee since they started,” said Meier, who learned from Corry that a coffee shop previously operating within 88Nine’s office space had closed.
Local cafe chain Stone Creek Coffee had leased a space in the station since 2013. Stone Creek struggled during the pandemic and closed several of its coffee shops in the region, including its 88Nine location in October 2020.
Meier saw the closing of Stone Creek as an opportunity to start something new. “In my head, I just started thinking about all the possibilities and stuff,” he said.
Through Corry, Meier submitted a proposal to Kevin Sucher, the station’s executive director. “It was very much parallel to the way that I was thinking about wanting to use that space,” Sucher said.
A month after Stone Creek closed, Sucher knew he wanted to fill the vacant space. He wanted to bring more people into the station but didn’t want another coffee shop. Though people liked the previous cafe, its menu was limited.
Sucher said there was interest in putting a restaurant in the studios. The idea also had history, as the building had been a restaurant prior to becoming the 88Nine offices.
Meier signed on in an advisory role early this year, though he was initially hesitant to go back into the restaurant business. “COVID kind of showed that the system had cracks in it even more than I thought,” Meier said.
“The system of how people get paid and how servers are treated, and the whole system itself … I didn’t really want to be a part of anymore.”
But Meier said he joined the project because he wants to change how restaurants are operated.
“What attracted me to it was that it wasn’t another restaurant. … I saw it as a Radio Milwaukee entity first,” Meier said. “I was trying to get out of the restaurant industry. This allows me to change the system of how we operate with a little bit different mentality. That’s what attracts me to the concept — I can contribute to the community.”
‘I’ve had it at Mom’s house’
88Nine will announce the restaurant’s name and menu on Dec. 1. Meier said that the cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will offer food truck–style counter service, allowing diners to carry out or eat on site.
Meier said that the menu will have international flair but also a sense of nostalgia, similar to 88Nine’s music programming.
“I want people to walk in and be like, ‘I’ve had it at Mom’s house or Grandma’s house,’” said Meier. “That feeling of comfort food, but comfort food from all different walks of life.”
Sucher said he hopes the new eatery will be open by the spring and that it will provide a place for people to work, eat and listen to good music. The station will stage live music and spoken-word shows in the space.
88Nine will add a kitchen, an outdoor seating section and 333 square feet to the front of the cafe space, bringing it to 1,650 square feet. Renovations will cost $770,000, which the station will cover with gifts from anonymous donors.
“I feel like by bolstering our on-site presence and giving people of the community a place to feel included … the future of how our community will congregate will not be on one dial or the other, but in our physical building that we love,” Sucher said.