MU Dining partners with Milwaukee businesses

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Photo by Joceline Helmbreck

MU dining partners with local businesses

In an effort to combine the Marquette community and the greater Milwaukee community, local businesses have been featured in Marquette’s dining halls.

Brain Kawa, the resident district manager for Marquette dining services, came up with the idea for these collaborations. The plans started being discussed last semester. 

“When we came onto campus, we knew we had some COVID-19 restrictions we had to deal with. So, we didn’t get this started in our fall programming for this year, but it was on our 2020-2021 agenda to really start focusing on partnerships with local restaurants and local retail vendors as well,” Kawa said.

 Local businesses such as Triciclo Perú, Heaven’s Table BBQ and The Soup Market have all been featured around various Marquette dining halls including Cobeen, the Commons, and the pop-up kitchen at Marquette Place in the AMU.

“We would call people and we’d say, ‘hey, we’d like to feature your business on campus’ and then it was a matter of more meetings, working with our culinary team, working with their teams to understand how they can utilize our resources.” Alex Abendschein, the market manager for Marquette’s dining services, said.

Marquette has partnered with local businesses in their Innovation Kitchen to do food demos. However, Abendschein said this specific collaboration is the first to his own knowledge. 

“We have never partnered with businesses, in this sense, where we’re actually purchasing their food and we’re providing it on campus, in our dining centers, so that students who are on the meal plan (have) the opportunity to try these different local businesses.” Kelsey Otero, who leads the 707 Hub and is the associate director of social innovation at Marquette, said.

Otero said the program could “encourage other universities or organizations” to look into “what a bi-local strategy in the food place could look like.”  

The benefits of these collaborations are directed to both the students and the local businesses of Milwaukee.   

“Milwaukee has a robust culinary atmosphere, and this is a great opportunity for us to kind of highlight some of those niche markets that offer some really unique food,” Abenschein said.

Otero also said this partnership is great for students as they can discover some of these “hidden gems.”

“A lot of students who have tried things here … then take their parents when their family is in town, or they take friends and expose them to a really dynamic food scene in Milwaukee,” Otero said.

Kawa said that this doesn’t only allow students to find more places to visit around Milwaukee then, but it helps support the local community.

“Our goal is to support local businesses,” Kawa said. “Our local restaurant scene has been devastated by the pandemic and all these small business owners are fighting just to stay afloat. We see an opportunity, to not only bring a great product to campus but also as a way for them to earn some additional revenues by us buying their product.

 Local businesses such as Triciclo Perú, Heaven’s Table BBQ and The Soup Market have all been featured around various Marquette dining halls including Cobeen, the Commons, and the pop-up kitchen at Marquette Place in the AMU. 

The focus now is on fall 2021 and to continue expanding the program and bringing in new businesses.  

“The more of those local business we partner with, the more experiences the students have,” Kawa said.

As of right now, the goal is to have at least two local businesses per month. Although, Kawa said they may already have six or seven additional restaurants lined up for just March; including local businesses that are not just food-related. 

“The list of potential vendors keeps growing,” Otero said.

She said she hopes these collaborations are something “students are more aware of and look forward to and are excited to try.

“I’m excited and hopeful that someone might try a food and then want to go visit that restaurant,” Otero said. 

This story was writtren by Karsyn Hartsfield. She can be reached at karsyn.hartsfield@marquette.edu