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Pop-up shops: How many in Milwaukee are starting new businesses

Posted at 12:00 AM, Apr 04, 2017

Pop-up shops are a way to launch a business, or test out a business, without a long-term lease commitment or permanent space. The owners of two Milwaukee businesses started as pop up shops, and now have permanent locations.

Gregory Leon is the executive chef and owner of Amilinda restaurant downtown. He moved to Milwaukee in 2012, and knew he wanted to open a restaurant here.

"We had to raise money, and nobody really knew who we were. I had just moved here, my partner is from here but he had never been in the food scene. So we decided, in order to stay busy, practice the food that we wanted to do for the restaurant, raise some money and get our name and face out into the community that we would do a pop-up," Leon says.

Leon was looking for a space that wasn't open at night, and was put in touch with Nell Benton, owner of the National Cafe.

"We were put in contact with Nell in May of 2014 and we started our regular Saturday pop-ups at the National in June. We did them all the way until January of 2015. Then we kind of put things on hold while we started building out the space for the restaurant," Leon says.

The pop-up was successful, and Leon and his partner were able to open Amilinda.

"We opened in August of 2016. August first. So it's been a year and seven months or so," Leon adds.

Leon credits his pop-up hostess for helping him launch his business.

"I certainly feel that way about Nell and the National. If she wouldn't have opened her doors to us and let us do this pop-up we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have our own permanent restaurant," Leon says.

Leon says it's gratifying to now be able to host a pop-up.

"We love it, actually. We love being able to provide a space for people to come in, be creative, and get their career started, their business started. I feel like it's my duty," Leon says.

Zach Peterson owns Commonplace in Bay View.

"I actually launched the store first as an online-only store. That was in summer of 2014. Then in the summer of 2015 I did a two-month long pop-up in Milwaukee's Third Ward. It was just sort of a retail test to see kind of how the local market would react to the products I was carrying. A lot of them were new to the area so I didn't really know how it was going to go," Peterson says.

It went well, and now Peterson has a permanent space in Bay View.

Peterson says he would recommend a pop-up as a way for an entrepreneur to test the waters.

"You get your name out there and also you get to work out any kinks that might be in your operation. You don't have to buy a ton of inventory right off the bat because you're just doing it for a couple of months, so you can do smaller orders and not put a ton of investment into it right away. Really sort of figure out what you're going to do and how you're going to do it before you jump all the way in on a long-term lease and a bunch of inventory and a bunch of other equipment and things like that," Peterson says.

Peterson says he believes Milwaukee's pop-up scene will grow.

"It makes so much sense that I don't see any reason why it wouldn't catch on more and more here. We do have a lot of empty storefronts. We have some streets that have multiple empty storefronts. I think it would make a lot of sense for new businesses and the building owners of those empty storefronts to go in there for a little bit. Get some money both ways."

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