Milwaukee Int’l Adds Indoor Beer Garden, Coat Check Service & Other Local Concessions

Milwaukee Int’l Adds Indoor Beer Garden, Coat Check Service & Other Local Concessions
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

House cleaning and redecorating like company coming to visit. Officials at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) went one step further and completed a $10.5 million concessions overhaul to prepare for a series of important guests expected to arrive soon. 

Finishing the comprehensive update on schedule was especially important because the city has several high-traffic, high-profile events on the calendar for this summer and early fall. Beyond its usual series of ethnic celebrations and the Summerfest music festival on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is also slated to host the Democratic National Convention in August. In addition, nearby Kohler is the site for the 2020 Ryder Cup, an international golf event scheduled in mid-September. 

Together, the marquee events have the potential to boost traffic well beyond the 7 million passengers MKE served last year, and each presents a rare opportunity to showcase the airport’s facilities to visitors from around the world. Naturally, COVID-19 could change everything, but airport executives remain positive. 


Project: Concessions Overhaul

Location: Milwaukee Mitchell Int’l Airport 

Scope: 22 new retail & food/beverage outlets

Cost: $10.5 million ($7 million retail; $3.5 million food/beverage)

Timeline: 6 months of concept/design work; about  one year of construction

Completion: Summer 2020

Food & Beverage Concessionaires: HMSHost; SSP America

Retail Concessionaire: Paradies Lagardère

Contractors: Triad Construction; Campbell Construction; Horizon Retail; Ott Development; Podojil Builders

Design: Haag Müller (Starbucks, Cousins Subs in Concourse C); O’Kelly & Kasprak, LLC (Barons’ Beer Garden); SmartDesign Group

Of Note: Construction/location openings scheduled to accommodate traffic associated with Democratic National Convention & Ryder Cup golf tournament.

“We had been contemplating a change in the concessions program, and it was time,” notes Airport Director Brian Dranzik. “Our new retail shops now have a much bigger emphasis on handcrafted and locally made products. Travelers will also notice a wider variety of food items, including more healthy food choices and options for people with allergies or special dietary needs. These new locations will offer a greatly enhanced experience compared to many other airports.”

In total, the airport added 22 new retail stores and food/beverage options, including an indoor beer garden modeled after the popular outdoor versions in Milwaukee County parks. The facelift was completed earlier this summer after about one year of construction. The terminal’s overall footprint, however, was not expanded.  

Strong Emphasis on Local

The airport worked with Paradies Lagardère, SSP America and HMSHost to establish the new concessions lineup. Together, they focused on proven national brands and local brands with a strong Milwaukee following.

“We wanted to emphasize utilizing local in the program, and the teams went out and did a really nice job of getting participation from Milwaukee companies,” Dranzik says. “We felt it was important to have the local flavor come through.”

Pat Wallace, vice president of business development for Paradies Lagardère, notes that a tight timeline kept the project team energized. “Originally, the DNC was the driving force behind the schedule,” Wallace says. “This aggressive schedule required coordination and cooperation from all parties involved, so we created a plan that included five phases utilizing two general contractors working simultaneously on multiple locations.”

Changes are most visible in the terminal’s largest retail footprint: a pre-security area with tall ceilings that gets flooded with natural light. The new Summerfest Marketplace fits right in with a bright, cheerful color scheme and smiley face logo from the music festival it helps promote. The shop’s cream city brick façade is similar to the exteriors on many historic buildings throughout Milwaukee.  

In addition to selling standard snacks and travel items, the store stocks products from local artisans. “Smaller vendors sometimes can’t afford a store footprint, so we have included them in this and other retail spaces in the airport,” Dranzik says.

Paradies Lagardère highlights the local components of MKE’s retail program with “Meet the Artisans” placards that share information about vendors from the Milwaukee area. “Travelers will certainly get a true taste of Wisconsin with Jim’s Cheese, founded in Waterloo in 1955, and Linden Studios, which creates hand-made wood-burned art reflecting what is unique about Wisconsin,” explains Wallace. He also cites the Oil & Ash Soap Company, which began its natural bathing products business from the basement of the owner’s home in Milwaukee’s North Point neighborhood.

Wisconsin-Style Amenities

In February, MKE introduced a coat check service for travelers leaving the area’s cold winter weather for warmer destinations. To save valuable luggage space, travelers can check their heavy coats at the pre-security Summerfest store for $2 per day. Like some parking valets, store employees collect customers’ return flight information to expedite the pickup process. 

The service, available December through March, was apparently an immediate hit. “We got a lot of great comments and positive reaction to it,” Dranzik reports. 

Across from Summerfest Marketplace are two other shops with local angles: Miller the Brewery Shop pays homage to the history of the famous Milwaukee-based beer producer, and the PGA TOUR Shop plays off Wisconsin’s ranking as one of top 10 states for golf according to Golf Advisor. “It was an easy choice to carry forward our PGA TOUR Shop,” notes Wallace.

MKE Streetside Market, a new option for fresh and packaged food items, is adjacent to the existing Miller Brewhouse bar and restaurant, which features airfield views. 

Accommodating the new retail spaces meant moving the Mitchell Gallery of Flight museum and the USO Lounge. Previously, the museum was tucked away in a corner, and the lounge was only available to travelers using one of MKE’s two operational concourses. Now, both amenities are centrally located and much more visible. “The new lounge makes it more useful for both C and D concourse travelers and has a larger footprint,” says Dranzik. 

One of the more noteworthy additions to post-security concessions is Barons’ Beer Garden, which serves beer and food throughout the day in Concourse C. 

“We thought it would be unique to have a Milwaukee flavor in that location, given the popularity of outdoor beer gardens here in Milwaukee County,” Dranzik explains. “By cobranding it with our park system, we are giving travelers an idea that there is a wonderful Milwaukee County Parks System that they could venture out and enjoy.”

Cousins Subs, a food and beverage option added to Concourse C, also has strong ties to the area. The regional chain of sandwich shops was originally founded in Milwaukee. 

The airport opted to recognize some of its city’s prominent neighborhoods with original retail and food/beverage storefronts such as the Bay View Exchange, Bronzeville Crossing, Miller Valley Market (featuring goods associated with Harley-Davidson motorcycles), and the Garden District Kitchen & Bar, which is named after the area where the airport is located.

“I am proud of this because those were locations where we could have easily installed generic concessions storefronts,” Dranzik comments. “Instead, we incorporated some of the neighborhood concepts of Milwaukee.”

Paradies Lagardère felt that a strong “sense of place” was critical for the project’s success. “Our team and the airport spent months and months researching and then partnering with the most iconic brands, elements and neighborhoods in the Milwaukee area,” Wallace explains. “The brands and areas we selected—and their people—are the heartbeat of the Milwaukee area, so we absolutely had to include them in our program.”

Above all, Wallace knew that representing Milwaukee and Wisconsin is impossible without paying tribute to the Green Bay Packers. And Milwaukee Bucks. And Milwaukee Brewers. And the University of Wisconsin Badgers. That’s where The Scoreboard comes in—a retail shop that carries all sorts of sports gear and fan items, including a Green Bay Packers helmet adorned with more than 12,000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals. In Wallace’s mind, The Scoreboard was an essential retail concept for MKE. “A tradition-filled, die-hard sports city like Milwaukee warrants a centerpiece like this,” he says. 

National retail brands new to the airport will include Spanx and No Boundaries. 

The airport’s new agreement with Paradies Lagardère includes 30% participation from local Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, which exceeds the county’s goal of 25%. “This partnership highlights Milwaukee County’s commitment to racial equity by supporting local businesses owned by women and people of color,” says Chris Abele, Milwaukee County executive during most of the project. 

COVID Curveball

Like so many other airport projects, MKE’s concessions overhaul was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the disease was spiking in Wisconsin just as crews were completing their work inside the terminal.  

Dranzik, who has been head of the airport for nearly three years, notes that Barons’ Beer Garden was set to have its grand opening when air traffic dropped precipitously. “But other construction continued on,” he says. “We were going into 2020 anticipating a real positive year from the standpoint of all the things going on in the community. Now, we are adjusting and monitoring the situation as best we can, and hopeful we can still carry on with the events and be ready for them.”

As of press time in early June, the Democratic National Convention was still moving forward, perhaps in a scaled-back version; and tee times had not been cancelled for the Ryder Cup. But even if COVID-19 disrupts plans for those two premiere events, MKE will be well positioned to serve other travelers visiting the Milwaukee region this year, and in many years to come. In October, the Wall Street Journal declared Milwaukee one of top 10 places to visit in 2020, citing the city’s five semifinalists for the 2019 James Beard Awards, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new home and America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Morever, Airbnb announced that Milwaukee is its top trending destination in the world for 2020.

“We feel the stores that have opened to date were met with excitement by travelers and, prior to COVID-19’s impact on our industry, were enjoying much success,” Wallace reflects. “We absolutely love the final lineup we are delivering.” 


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