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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

What’s Up With West Allis?

New business in the old industrial city

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Despite the successes of such summertime events as the Summer Music in the Park series at West Allis’ Veterans Memorial Park and the annual A La Carte street festival on Greenfield Avenue, many people continue to define West Allis only as the site of the Wisconsin State Fair. As a result, it seems almost reasonable to generalize West Allis as a place for pig races and cream puffs. But the stereotype is unfairly limiting. Like Milwaukee in the past 25 years, West Allis is attempting to move forward with business and neighborhood developments under the guidance of city officials with a vision, such as Mayor Dan Devine.

Welcome to West Allis

A native of Racine and graduate of UW-Milwaukee, Devine completed one term as Milwaukee County supervisor before running for mayor of West Allis in 2008. As a West Allis resident, Devine realized that he wanted to have a hand in the future of the community where he intended to raise his children. During his campaign, he discovered an expanding youth presence in the city. “When I was running for office in 2008 and going door to door, a young mom or dad who had just moved in during the last year would [often] open the door,” Devine recalls. “Some of my friends that went to UWM are now living here. In West Allis, you’re still close enough to Milwaukee to get to the nightlife and the concerts, yet you can afford a home and a yard. It’s difficult to afford a house on the East Side right out of college.”

However strong the allure of an affordable home and yard may be, an area must have other offerings. In respect to the city’s own nightlife, Devine concedes that development has been slow over the last couple of years, but believes that West Allis has done well considering its challenges. Milwaukee historian John Gurda agrees. “Revitalization may be too strong a word to describe the changes to the city’s center, but I will say that West Allis has physically recovered from the [1987] closing of Allis-Chalmers,” he says, referring to the collapse of one of the area’s major manufacturers and employers. “There are good things happening. With an active Chamber of Commerce, West Allis has held on to a measure of its vitality…there is definitely a positive amount of activity and there appears to be positive neighborhood involvement, especially when compared to other areas of town.”

Devine is quick to point out the proliferation of restaurants in West Allis. “We have a really diverse dining scene, which is one of our big strengths, especially when you consider the West Allis Farmers Market and the A La Carte fair. We have a lot of little hidden gems in this community that I believe get overlooked.”

Considering its old-fashioned image, the city’s dining options are surprisingly diverse, featuring a quality selection of Italian restaurants and bakeries including Gianni’s Bakery (6207 W. National Ave.), Scardina Bakery & Delicatessen (5901 W. Beloit Road), Caterina’s Ristorante (9104 W. Oklahoma Ave.), Filippo’s Italian Restaurant (6915 W. Lincoln Ave.), Sofia’s Restaurant (7030 W. Lincoln Ave.) and Mama Mia’s on Greenfield (8533 W. Greenfield Ave.). Chinese and Thai are represented by New No. 1 Chinese (7536 W. Oklahoma Ave.), The Egg Roll House (1507 S. 108th St.), Fortune Restaurant (2945 S. 108th St.) and Singha Thai Restaurant (2237 S. 108th St.).

88 Keys Piano Martini Lounge (7211 W. Greenfield Ave.) is a great place for jazz, martinis and pizza. In addition, there is a wide selection of 24-hour eateries, Greek restaurants, bars and pubs. Among the more recently opened bright spots, Devine names Antigua Mexican and Latin Restaurant (5823 W. Burnham St.), Chef Paz (9039 W. National Ave.) and Urban Joe Café (7028 W. Greenfield Ave.).

Urban Joe’s September grand opening was a welcome development for Devine, who had been hoping for a local coffee shop business since taking office. What may have been a new coffee shop to the casual observer was a positive development to those in the surrounding area. “I look at Downtown as slowly becoming more and more of a destination. It’s becoming a place where you can sit down at one place, then go grab a martini after dinner and then go out for dessert,” says Devine. “The farmers market area has a lot of potential, too, and there are some sites that are ripe for redevelopment and will bring more people to the area,” he continues. “I really believe we are moving in the right direction and people need to realize that West Allis has a lot to offer.”

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