Urban Guesthouses and B&Bs: A New Way to Experience Milwaukee

I recently wrote an article for the Shepherd Express about Milwaukee’s guesthouses and B&Bs, highlighting the uniqueness of these businesses and why people would want to stay at this type of accommodation.  You can read the article here or see it on the Shepherd Express website.

The accommodation industry is shifting toward small cozy guesthouses and Milwaukee is picking up on the trend. When most of us imagine a bed and breakfast (B&B), we think of a remote cottage in the countryside, but Milwaukee has urban guesthouses and B&Bs that offer easy access to the city and a comfortable, welcoming place to rest your head at night. With the rise of the “sharing economy” through sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, people in the industry are realizing that travelers are looking for a “home away from home.”

Imagine for a moment that you are visiting a new city for a few days, and when you first arrive to your accommodation, you are greeted by a friendly face—the owner of the house. Rather than walking into a generic lobby, you enter what feels like home, with a personalized touch. You sit down in the common room with a warm cup of tea to have genuine conversation with the other guests, and suddenly this city doesn’t feel so strange.

As travelers, we are drawn to these small, unique businesses when looking for accommodations because we want a story. The structure and design of a guesthouse tells the story of its neighborhood, just as much as its owner does. By staying in a family-run guesthouse or B&B, you get the chance to meet the people who run it and see Milwaukee through their eyes. Not only will they reveal the hidden corners of Milwaukee, but they take the time to learn about you and your interests before suggesting the perfect outing. When traveling, the place where you stay should be as much a part of the experience as the rest of the city.

Milwaukee has six small, family-run guesthouses or B&Bs that are all notably unique. From Victorian-style bed and breakfasts to a guesthouse in the midst of flourishing gardens and a cozy gallery space, each place adds a unique accent to the urban neighborhoods of this city.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

 

The Brumder Mansion

www.milwaukeemansion.com

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The Brumder Mansion brings a different experience to the Concordia neighborhood. Built on Wisconsin Avenue in 1910 by George Brumder (1839-1910), the building has a theater in the basement and five bedrooms, most of which have a Jacuzzi and fireplace. Nine years ago, Tom and Julie Carr came from California, bought the Brumder Mansion and rebuilt the basement theater. Some guests come for romantic escapes in the bed and breakfast, while others come specifically for the theater.

“This isn’t a bed and breakfast; it’s a Hollywood set,” says Tom Carr. Stay a night during one of the performances, and you will be taken away into another world of fantasy and imaginary characters. The Brumder’s theater puts on four to five shows per year, made possible by production manager Amanda Hull, artistic director Tom Marks and Milwaukee Entertainment Group. Whether you are trying to solve a murder mystery or you are being swept up into the madness of the Hatter in Alice’s Wonderland, you won’t be bored. Don’t miss their upcoming shows including Dancing with Hamlet.

 

Kinn Guesthouse

www.kinnmke.com

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Originally from Chicago, Charles and Connie Bailey moved their family to Milwaukee in 2015 when they bought the Cream City brick building on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. After a year-and-a-half of restoring the building, the couple opened Kinn Guesthouse in March of 2017. The name Kinn comes from Charles’ father and grandfather who ran the Drake hotels in Chicago and passed the trade down to him. The eight-room guesthouse has a chic modern feel with large windows in every room, making the rooms seem twice their actual size. All but one of the rooms and the spacious common area are on the second floor of the building, above the restaurant, Kindred.

Before you get to your room, you will be stopped by the stunning kitchen and living room space that is free for all the guests to use. Along with the deep-cushioned couch, gallery wall and fully outfitted kitchen, the Baileys have a Nespresso machine, bottle of wine and popcorn waiting for their guests. “People care to live in a different way,” says Charles. “They want something that’s more cozy and comfortable and feels more like home than the big hotels.” If you stay at Kinn, you will most likely meet the charming couple and be treated to the Honey Pie pastries that they offer every weekend.

 

Manderley Bed & Breakfast

www.bedandbreakfastmilwaukee.com

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For the last 17 years, Marie and Andrew Parker have been running Manderley Bed and Breakfast, making it the oldest running B&B in Milwaukee. Originally from the Milwaukee area, the couple decided to open the bed and breakfast once they discovered the elaborate mansion on Wells Street in the Concordia neighborhood. “Even in its dilapidated condition, it had charm and appeal,” explains Andrew. After seven years of rebuilding the structure and designing the interior with hand-made stencils and hand-painted art, they finally opened their dream business. Because there were no other Milwaukee B&Bs at the time, the couple helped the city write the laws pertaining to bed and breakfasts, making Concordia the official Bed and Breakfast District of Milwaukee.

When you first walk up to the Manderley mansion, you will most likely be greeted by one of the friendly cats waiting for you on the porch. As you pass through the door into the house, you will be taken back in time to a Victorian era filled with old books, ornate wall décor and a warm fireplace. Andrew and Marie will make you feel right at home with friendly conversation over fresh breakfast from their backyard chicken coop and vegetable garden. There is no doubt these two are dedicated to their guests and to Milwaukee.

 

Muse Gallery Guesthouse

www.themuseguesthouse.com

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When you choose to stay at the Muse Gallery Guesthouse in the heart of Bay View, you may spend hours sitting and talking with Mary Ellen Hermann and Andrew Meechan—the owners of the place. The novelty of this guesthouse comes from the Milwaukee art hanging on its walls and the dedication the couple has for the local artists. All of the art changes quarterly, thanks to the curating of Renée “Luna” Bebeau. To see the work on display, stop in during one of their gallery events or during the Bay View Gallery Night.

As experienced travelers, Hermann and Meechan see the value in bed and breakfasts because of the well-traveled people they often meet in such places. “When you have breakfast with them, you learn so many things, particularly the next two dozen places you want to go visit,” explains Mary Ellen. The guesthouse is meant to be an experience and a welcoming place for travelers to relax and feel like they are part of the city.

 

Sanger House Gardens

www.sangerhousegardens.com

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While walking up the front stairs to the Sanger House Gardens through the lush greenery, you can look over the vast array of plants at the beautiful cityscape of Milwaukee. If you continue on the winding pathways through the arching branches and multitude of colors, you will reach the carriage house in the back of the garden. There is only one bedroom in this urban getaway, but it is a luxury space with two floors, kitchen, laundry machines and double doors that open to the gardens. Steve Bialk and Angela Duckert bought the Brewer’s Hill property in 1985 and have been enhancing the gardens ever since.

About five years ago, they decided to start a wedding and event business in the space. Along with formal events, the couple has also hosted neighborhood garden clubs and participated in Doors Open Milwaukee 2017. After getting repeated requests for a guesthouse, Bialk and Duckert finally renovated the carriage house and opened the guesthouse last April. There is no breakfast included with your stay, but when you arrive, you’ll get a personal tour of the gardens and personal suggestions for your Milwaukee stay. One of the best things about Sanger is that pets are allowed. It’s a place where you get the best of both worlds: close proximity to the city and a hideaway amidst blooming flowers.

 

Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast

www.schustermansion.com

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In that same Concordia neighborhood, you will find Schuster Mansion Bed and Breakfast, run by Rick and Laura Sue Mosier. They’re known for their Victorian-style high tea and exceptional hospitality. If you want coffee or tea delivered to your room in the morning, a choice of breakfast from their menu that has not changed in 10 years and freshly-ironed sheets every night, then the Schuster Mansion is the place for you. As you wander through the halls of the mansion, you get lost in the relics adorning the walls and the hand-made decorations throughout the house. The attention to detail is unreal, even down to the shower curtain rings covered in fabric so they don’t make a sound.

The moment you meet Rick and Laura Sue Mosier, you already feel like old friends. “It is so fun to meet people and learn about their lives and why they’re here. We’re part of people’s lives,” says Laura Sue. After talking with the couple for what could be hours, they will give you customized suggestions about the city based on your interests and their own secrets spots in Milwaukee.

Silver Spring Neighborhood Center

As you pull off Silver Spring Drive onto 64th Street, you may not think twice about the large building in the quiet neighborhood but once you walk through those front doors, you are greeted by smiling faces and a vibrant chandelier made by the kids that are part of the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center (SSNC).  The community center is a nonprofit organization that services the people in the neighborhood through programs relating to health & wellness, education, and employment.  At the heart of this organization are the people that work tirelessly to ensure these community members thrive in their city. “Whenever you are doing social service work, it is so critical.  You go through a lot internally. It’s no easy job,” says Devin Hudson, the Development Director at the SSNC.  The work they do at the neighborhood center opens so many doors for the individuals that take part in the programs.

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The Silver Spring Neighborhood Center started in 1958 as a settlement house servicing the Westlawn neighborhood.  The center was a resource for new residents to turn to as they started their lives in Milwaukee.  Throughout SSNC’s history, their partners have helped shape who they are and who they impact.  So in 1986, the center partnered with the UWM College of Nursing, which allowed them to implement programs like health care services for people that are under-insured, classes to teach teens about choosing healthy foods, collaboration with the Childhood Development Center and the list goes on.  At the core of these programs is the director Jean Bell-Calvin, who has been with the UW-Milwaukee Silver Spring Community Nursing Center since the start.  “It’s a blessing to do the work that we do,” says Jean, “It’s about resources.  It’s about how you advocate for resources in the community and it’s a challenge.”  The lives Jean has touched in the community is hard to put into words, much less fit into a blog post.

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Jean Bell-Calvin (left) and Devin Hudson (right)

The next major partnership happened in the early 2000s when SSNC joined with Browning Elementary School, part of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).  The two started their cooperative because MPS was focused on bringing neighborhood schools back to the city.  A neighborhood of support is what binds these organizations together.

2017_09_19_SSNC_033_1EThe core of the SSNC’s programs have always been youth oriented, but they also have a number of programs for adults such as their GED program and the Transform Milwaukee Program which opens job possibilities for those with a criminal background or a child support order.

For those in the area needing guidance or a way to start over, the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center stands as a center for hope.  The SSNC has quality employees that can work with you to make the program successful.  As soon as you step onto the campus, you are confronted with encouragement and place of comfort away from the challenges of everyday life.  The SSNC’s impact on Milwaukee is overwhelming.  Learn more about what they are accomplishing on their website: www.ssnc-milw.org

Kinn Guesthouse

As you walk into the entrance way of the Kinn Guesthouse, you’ll find a beautiful open kitchen that faces a large couch, conveniently placed next to a cozy fireplace.  As you enter, you instantly feel as though you’ve walked into a close friend’s home.  Decorating the wall behind the couch is a broad collection of art displayed in a gallery style.  If you look close enough, you’ll find two black and white portraits of men hidden among the colorful bustle of art.  These men are the grandfather and father of Charles Bailey, the same men that ran The Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago and The Drake in Oakbrook, respectively.  Now that Charles has opened his own guesthouse with his wife Connie Bailey, they thought it fitting to name their business Kinn (adding the extra “n” because the building is on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View).

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Originally from Chicago, Charles was a floor trader for years.  But as the industry changed, he started looking at other career options.  “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of hotels because I’ve been around them my entire life. I never thought I’d be in the business but it always intrigued me,” says Charles.  The couple lived in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood until they decided it was time to move as their son, Quinn was getting older.  The family moved their life to Milwaukee and soon after that, found a beautiful brick building in Bay View for sale.

“The building presented itself and our dream started to take shape,” Connie explains. “The concept was all Charles, but we did work together to perfect the idea and execution.”  The couple put in a great deal of work to get the building to where it is now.  It started out as a masonic lodge then a series of bars and restaurants that didn’t take care of the space.  Connie and Charles gutted the entire thing and brought the building back to life, while keeping the original flooring (110-year-old maple) and exposing the cream city brick walls.

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Charles was always interested in the idea behind Airbnb and foresees the company changing the hotel industry.  “To me, the success of Airbnb means that people care to live in a different way.  They want something that feels more like home than the big hotels,” he says.  Charles found the perfect mix between that homey concept and the luxury feel of hotels: comfy but not too personal.  “Usually you just want to live like you do at home [when traveling],” says Charles. “I didn’t have to prove that concept, I just had to build it.”  The idea was to keep overhead low by making the building totally self-sufficient so that Charles and Connie could focus on enriching the rooms as much as possible.  When you book a room with Kinn Guesthouse, you receive a code for your room that becomes active the day you check in.  When you arrive, your room is ready, there’s community wine in the common room, and if you happen to be there on a Saturday morning, Charles is most likely there to greet you with fresh muffins from Honey Pie (the bakery next door).

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Kinn Guesthouse opened in March of this year but it is already very involved with theMilwaukee community.  On all the walls in the guesthouse, you will find artwork from local Milwaukee artists that Connie handpicked herself.  The exception is the gallery wall in the common room, which is part of Charles and Connie’s personal art collection.  Connie plans on swapping the artwork in the rooms to display more local artists. On the Kinn website, you can find links to these artists.  Kinn is also working with the restaurant Kindred, located on the first floor of the building.  “We are starting to create events that bring local vendors in for conceptual dining experiences,” explains Connie.

Kinn makes it easy for travelers to instantly connect with Milwaukee.  Guests can enjoy the luxurious day-lit rooms while feeling like they’re at home with access to a kitchen and a bottle of wine waiting for them on the counter.  And the best part is that Charles and Connie take the time to get to know their guests.  View their website and take a peek into the Kinn Guesthouse.

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds

We all have those moments when we see a cause that needs attention, and think “I should do something about this,” but few of us act on that thought.  That’s what makes Maria and Grant Groves stand out.  After a trip to Kenya, they started the non-profit organization Feeding Mouths Filling Minds in 2012.  When Maria was 20, she visited an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya on a service project that opened her eyes to challenges people face across the world.  The widespread poverty she saw stayed in the back of her mind until she finally went back to visit that same orphanage years later with her husband Grant.  This visit was different because the couple started talking about land use, how land use could improve food and water, and what the orphanage could do to optimize land use.  “That’s how the organization got started,” says Maria.

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FMFM focuses on sustainable food and water sources because if these basic needs are fulfilled, children are “able to turn their attention to filling their minds rather than worrying about filling their bellies,” as explained on the group’s website.  Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has partnered with other organizations to build water wells in Liberia, farm ponds in Kenya, sustainable farming in Sierra Leone and so much more.  With Maria’s unique skills in networking and business, the organization is able to acquire funding to implement these projects.  And with the help of their dedicated team, FMFM ensures that the projects continue to be successful by teaching local people in Africa how to carry out the programs.

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has also started to focus on their local community in addition to their projects in Africa.  They have partnered with Youth Outreach Service in Chicago to build an urban garden for at-risk youth, that will provide local teenagers with healthy food and teach them how to manage their own garden.  FMFM is also in the process of launching a global students program that youth groups, teen centers and/or teachers could incorporate into their activities and lesson plans.  Under that program, kids would pick an African country to learn about and would complete academic components and required readings focusing on that country.  Then the children would choose one of the FMFM projects and would come up with their own ideas to help with funding.  The students would be connected with the children they are helping in Africa via email or mail.  They would “really own it and be empowered through that entire project,” explains Maria.

So when you think to yourself “I should do something about this,” follow FMFM’s model and take action.  The organization understands that children are our future, both in Africa and at home, and with their basic needs met, they can reach their full potential.  Learn more about the organization on their website at www.feedingmouthsfillingminds.com

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Springdale Farm

Located just Southwest of Plymouth and alongside the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forrest, Springdale Farm sits peacefully in a valley.  In the fall of 1987, Peter and Bernadette Seely moved to Wisconsin to start their farm with a business model that was new to the midwest: Community Supported Agriculture.  When their farm first opened in 1988, they had 45 members that subscribed to the farm in order to receive fresh produce every week of the growing season based on which crops were available.  “It seemed like a good idea to build a better economy based on good food,” says Peter Seely.

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Raised in a suburb of New York City, Peter didn’t know much about farming but when a movement for organic food started in the 70s and early 80s Peter states, “the role of food and health became pretty obvious to me.”  So he apprenticed at an organic vegetable farm in Maine for a summer, which first made him consider farming full time.  A few years later, Peter taught high school math at a school in Iowa where he first met his soon-to be-wife Bernadette.   The school had a garden that was part of a program to teach kids about farming that Bernadette and Peter managed together.  In 1986, the couple spent a season touring farms, and among them were the first CSAs in the country.  After learning how these farms functioned, the couple thought: “Let’s see if that idea could take route here in Wisconsin.”

That idea took off.  For the first 20 years, they had a waiting list for their CSA, which serves Sheboygan, Ozaukee and Milwaukee counties.  Springdale is now one of about 12 farms in Southeast Wisconsin that follow the Community Supported Agriculture model. The farmers are in the process of creating a group called CSA Farms of Southeast Wisconsin, in which they help each other with advice and outreach about CSAs.

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“So how does Springdale Farm benefit the Milwaukee community?”, I asked Peter Seely.  As a CSA member, Peter explains, people “know they are directly supporting a local farm dedicated to keeping the soil and the environment safe to pass it on to future generations.”   Additionally, people know exactly where their food comes from and can have it delivered the day after it was picked from the field.

Now 29 years later, Peter and Bernadette Seely have 750 CSA members, 13 greenhouses, electric tractors powered by solar panels and a continued mission to provide healthy food and a sustainable future for our environment.  And in case you’re wondering, their favorite thing to cook this time of year is pesto.

Learn more about the farm on their website: www.SpringdaleFarmCSA.org

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Milwaukee Talks Green

“The partnership works perfectly because we get to engage the community and broaden our reach by working together.”  That’s Jessy Ortiz, Outpost’s Sustainability Manager talking about how she and Anastasia Kraft created Milwaukee Talks Green. Jessy and Ana started this group this past January because they wanted to inform our community about sustainability.  The group meets roughly once a month to host events with guest speakers, tour local facilities, clean up rivers and more.  “The whole idea of MKE Talks Green is to educate our community so people will know more and can make better decisions in their everyday life,” explains Ana Kraft.

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But lets back up a moment because these two ambitious women didn’t even know each other until November 2016.  Ana, originally from Germany, saw things differently than many Americans because she grew up in a country with small cars, renewable energy, extensive waste management and elaborate recycling.  “Instead of complaining, I wanted to meet people. I’m sure there are many people out there that care about the environment and want to learn something,” she says.  Inspired by TED Talks, she decided to make a Meet Up group where speakers could present to the community and everyone could discuss the topic afterwards.

Enter Jessy Ortiz and Outpost Natural Foods.  At about the same time, Jessy and the company were discussing how to better engage the community in sustainability.  The original idea was to start a group only for owners of the Outpost co-op, but when Ana showed up at the Bay View location asking if Outpost would host the Meet Up group, it made more sense to include the whole community.

2017_06_25_JO_004_1EAna and Jessy plan out the events with themes based on the time of year or relevant holidays.  For instance, in March their theme was water for World Water Day and they invited speakers from Milwaukee River Keeper, Feed Mouths Filling Minds and water expert Dr. Moe Mukiibi.  In April they focused on local farming, hosting speakers from the Young Farmers Program and Victory Garden Initiative.  In the summer months, they organized outside events like a tour of Milwaukee recycling facilities and of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.  August’s theme will be sustainable grazing and later in the fall they will be focussing on energy efficiency.

The two women emphasize that the group is meant to inform people of what’s already going on in their community and hopefully inspire them to get involved.  “The idea is think global, act local,” says Jessy.  “This is one way for Outpost to extend their mission: to provide owners a healthy, diverse and sustainable community.”

“Education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world,” Ana passionately states. “Hopefully we will create a community where people see their impact.”

To join these two inspiring women at their next event, visit their Facebook page and learn more about how Milwaukee is becoming a sustainable city.

Kathy Papineau and MKE Kitchen

2017_05_21_KP_013_1EIt’s hard to capture all of the things that Kathy Papineau does for the community in one blog post.  The best way to describe Kathy Papineau is that she puts her community before herself.  She runs three businesses that all work together: MKE Kitchen, Localicious and Soup in a Jar.  On top of all that, she is a huge advocate for the local food movement in Milwaukee and a role model for composting and eating local.

Kathy first became interested in food at a young age.  She grew up in Manitowoc, WI with 5 siblings, an unhealthy father, and a mother that didn’t have much time to cook.  Kathy’s childhood fueled her motivation to eat healthy and learn to cook by watching cooking shows on TV and reading magazines like Home & Garden and Good Housekeeping.  Years later as a stay-at-home mom, Papineau started her catering company Localicious around 2007.  She started small in her home kitchen, but the business kept growing until 2012, when she opened MKE Kitchen, her commercial kitchen in Riverwest. Soup in a Jar is her food truck you may see around town that she uses to sell her homemade soup and meet new customers. Naturally, Kathy thought of others before herself. “If I was going to build a kitchen for my business, I thought I should build a kitchen big enough so that other people could build their businesses too,” she explained.

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But that’s not all the kitchen does, not even close.  Kathy teaches cooking classes to kids, and the classes incorporate the importance of composting and the benefits of a local market.  “Schools need to find room in their curriculum to cover stuff like that,” she says.  At the same time, the kitchen acts as a meeting place for local food groups such as volunteers from the Urban Ecology Center advocating for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  Papineau has created a welcoming place for ideas to spread and for the local food community to grow.

Kathy moves fast and doesn’t sit still for very long which means she has a million ideas for the future.  She wants to teach a course about starting your own business to teach people about all the business technicalities they don’t consider at first.  Whether she planned it or not, Kathy has become a guide for the new entrepreneurs that rent from her and she’s willing to share her experience.  One of those new entrepreneurs, Collin Wallace of Chillwaukee, talked about how helpful Kathy had been to his new business.  “She’s very accommodating and gives us the space we need, and puts us in touch with people and news stations,” he said.

With every new idea, Kathy stays true to her core goal: “I want people to eat healthier. I want them to understand the relationship between their food, their health and the environment. That’s what I want.”

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