Big, new Asian grocery store reflects Milwaukee’s ever-shifting demographics

While driving to the new Asian supermarket on South 27th Street, I remembered how back in the 1980s, going out for Chinese food seemed like the coolest thing to do. Compared to the predictable fare at any of the fast food places I knew as a kid in the ’80s, getting Chinese food was a veritable dining adventure. Many of the ingredients weren’t like the ones my mother used in her home cooking. And the fortune cookies that we got at the end of the meal ensured that at some point I would insist on coming back for more.

Thirty-some years later, Asian cooking has become a big part of my home. My wife and I are devotees of the rice cooker, which is the subject of Roger Ebert’s new book, The Pot and How to Use It. So we got excited when word got out about the Pacific Produce Asian supermarket being planned for 5455 S. 27th St. (Long-time Wisconsinites will recognize the building’s semi-circular arch as the distinctive mark of a former Kohl’s grocery store. And did you know that the first Kohl’s grocery store was located here in Bay View?)

Sure enough, Pacific Produce opened up last Tuesday. Honestly, I don’t know if I have ever been excited about a supermarket. But walking through Pacific Produce today, I felt a thrill that the store was in place and open for business. (Yes, I get excited at the sight of fifty pound bags of jasmine rice.) My wife Stacie was even more exited at the prospect of finally having a place in Milwaukee that has the light and flavorful Vietnamese baguette sandwiches known as báhn mi.

Despite this, neither our four-month-old son Ellison nor my eight-year-old daughter Hari were interested in anything at the Báhn Mi Nhuy carryout stand. Ellison was busy napping in his stroller, while Hari had a ball marveling at the variety of frozen items that were available. She laughed at the whole grouper fish and daring me to touch the eyes of frozen duck heads. Some of the items weren’t so easy for her to deal with. While she objected to the presence of pig uteruses for sale, it was balut—boiled, fertilized duck eggs—really set her off once she figured out that balut entailed the effective killing of duck fetuses.

“They’re mean, doing that,” she said. “How can they do that? Poor duckies.”

Stacie replied, “Nothing goes to waste,” to which Hari objected, “But they’re mean!”

While our discussion pointed out how much we’ve been removed from the realities of carnivorism by modern life, to me, it subtly underlined how the population in Milwaukee and the greater metro area is evolving.

A few years back, my history methodology class at UWM was puzzling over the significance of an article in that day’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that discussed the creation of a new Asian-themed festival in Milwaukee’s Silver City neighborhood. Our professor asked, why was this news? Why was it important enough to write about and put in the paper? And how was it representative of a long-term trend for Milwaukee?

I picked up on it right away: while the south side had been predominantly Polish for much of the 19th and 20th century, it was changing fast. Fast enough that they could have a festival. I had recently seen census numbers that showed Milwaukee’s Asian population had really grown in the past twenty years, and here was proof of that in the plans for the new festival.

(In the interest of delicious but probably unnecessary disclosure, I am friends with Bouavanh Toy (“Toy”) Sihamath, who, along with her sister Bouachanh (“Bee”) Phonhab Phonthavisouk, owns Asian International Market at 3401 W. National Ave. I pick up their discarded vegetables for the Milwaukee Community Compost Network.)

I find it curious that although the decades-long saga of the Vietnam War ended a few months before I was born, some thirty-five years later, businesses owned by Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, and Hmong people (among the many other Asian ethnicities) have thrived here in Milwaukee. Although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still going on, by the time my children are adults, will we see the wars long-since ended and a similar growth of Mid-Eastern and central Asian food and community in Milwaukee?

Short answer: “Come back when you’re seventy and find out.”


Non-shocker of the day: JS endorses Plale

It comes as no surprise that the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board has endorsed incumbent Sen. Jeff Plale.  The board usually endorses incumbents unless they’ve done truly wrong. Plale killing the Clean Energy Jobs Act — which the board says he’s wrong on — was not enough for them to shift their endorsement. They’re very pro-incumbent, and despite what some commenters believe, they are not terribly liberal or necessarily even pro-Democrat. Frankly, I’m not sure who or what they’re in favor of, but that’s not the point of this post.

While few people’s minds are likely to be swayed by this endorsement, we can expect a last-minute Plale mailer or flier crowing about it. Just in case all the help from Scott Jensen and Charlie Sykes weren’t enough to try and help him win. With friends like that, why does a Democrat need the paper’s endorsement?

And if he loses, what do you bet a cushy job at AT&T or some other corporate contributor will be in his future?

Milwaukee News Buzz debuts

…and begs for painfully bad pun in this headline… but this is not the Journal Sentinel.

Milwaukee News Buzz is a new site from the crew at Milwaukee Magazine. They may be encouraged to read that I’ve learned more about the local scene in thirty seconds of glancing at Milwaukee News Buzz than I usually do from much any length of time scanning the headlines on JSonline. At the same time, in a way I’m sorry to say that. I’ve really been enjoying reading the New York Times lately. I don’t care what you think of that paper’s alleged “bias”; next to The Guardian, the Times it simply is the best damn newspaper around. I wish we had something resembling that paper’s quality of writing and investigative prowess here in Milwaukee.

(Note to Tom Daykin: your blog/column is an exception to the above statement.)

For instance, I wasn’t aware that there was a renewable fuel plant in the works at the Port of Milwaukee, or at least not as described in Matthew Hrodey’s story.

Between him and Tom Daykin, I feel much more informed about local action than I would have otherwise. (Note to Milwaukee Magazine: Hire Tom Daykin!)

Anyhow, it’s good to see someone picked up an idea had with The Wisconsinite, which was to have a blog or other for of news outlet with a statewide reach as well as locally-oriented stuff. My mind and heart are now firmly fixed on urban farming and redevelopment, so I wish Bruce and the boys luck with this. It will certainly become part of

Empty lots on Milwaukee north side likely to see redevelopment

Encouraging news came from Tom Daykin’s “Land And Space” blog, which, by the way, is my favorite part of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online content. The story ran as a regular article in the print edition, telling us that Dane County property development corporation Gorman & Co. seeks to purchase some forty lots from the City of Milwaukee. With those in hand, the company plans to build affordable housing upon them.

According to Daykin’s article, “the lots… are in the Metcalfe Park and North Division neighborhoods on the north side,” which is probably Milwaukee’s single “worst” area. The opportunity to sell the lots “will be reviewed Friday by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee.”

Looking at the City’s web site, I see that committee is made up by Ald. James N. Witkowiak, Chair; Ald. Willie C. Wade, Vice Chair; Ald. Michael J. Murphy; Ald. Robert J. Bauman; and the man who would like to be the next Lieutenant Governor, Ald. Tony Zielinski. (He’s also my alderman.)

Let’s look at some details we can see from the article:

“Gorman & Co. wants to buy 40 vacant central city lots for $1 each, on which it would build homes that would be rented to families earning below the Milwaukee area’s median income.”

$1 each! Wow. Well, how much is that land worth nowadays? I’ll try to look at the property tax assessment later. If it would only cost $1, what’s top stop community gardening groups from buying up the land that cheap? (A lot of things, actually. It can be done, with a plan. And a length plan that would be.)

I think the City should ask for a little more than just $40 for the total sale, but then, this could bring future revenue for the City. Such is the cost of doing business, and may be worth it considering that currently, those empty lots are a blight for the City and its People.

“The lots are in areas bounded by N. 27th to N. 30th streets and W. Meinecke Ave. to W. Center St., and N. 8th to N. 11th streets, and W. Center St. to W. Locust St.”

As I said, that is probably Milwaukee’s single “worst” area, which most people think means crime, but also includes chronic poverty and availability of healthy food.

That said, I’ve had no problems when I’ve gone up there for the annual Daddy/Daughter Dance at North Division High School. (And then went home.) To me, it looks like there’s just not much going on up there. But I see lots of opportunity for redevelopment with community gardens and affordable housing.

“Gorman plans to eventually sell the homes after 15 years of renting. The firm in 2007 and 2008 developed 30 houses in a similar program on the north side.”

“Other affordable housing project proposals in Milwaukee include Gorman’s plans for 60 apartments at W. Atkinson Ave. and N. 16th St., and 64 apartments and 14 rental homes at the former Jackie Robinson Middle School, 3245 N. 37th St.”

This tells me that they’re committed to doing something with the land. Assuming they built quality housing, that’s good. And goodness knows, we need that on the north side.

Committee members, make it so.

Update: The plan fell through. Discouraging, but at least it’s being thought of.

MJS: “Wall’s tax breaks become campaign fodder”

“Oh, what a place to be, in the service, of the bourgeoisie,” as Iggy Pop once sang.

It’s a nice place to be. Gets you out of annoying things like paying taxes.

Diana Marrero of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a lengthy story today called Wall’s tax breaks become campaign fodder.


Journal Sentinel edges toward…

It must be hard to be in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom right now. I know it’s been tough at the Capital Times over in Madison, and its bigger cousin the State Journal hasn’t had it much easier. I still remember talking to SJ’s beloved columnist George Hesselberg after his column got iced back in 2004 — the logic of that move was ponderous, to say the least. Eliminate one of the most-read and beloved parts of your paper? Sure…

Now the hammer falls on Journal Communications. Employees are being laid off in droves. Business Journal of Milwaukee has the full sad story.

Both Journal Communications and Capital Newspapers (nee Madison Newspapers) had the bright idea of coming out with faux alt-weeklies back in 2004. Alas, neither succeeded in the long run, and both papers are now history. Neither seems to have helped their parent company stay afloat.

As someone who has been in the publishing business, and occasionally plays a reporter in various newspapers, part of my heart is still with the journalistic community. It’s a hell of a time to be in the field now, and a far cry from the day when newspapers seemed as steady and reliable a field as you could wish for. While I’m still a foreign party to most of the Milwaukee journalist scene, part of me cringes when I read about cuts at any paper. If it’s a hometown paper, that’s even worse. People that I know — be it in person or via Facebook — are affected.

As someone who has a face for radio and a voice for print, but whose fingers ache from blogging, not many options are left. God knows Indymedia doesn’t pay. Good thing I’m a history major, huh?

“Prominent local journalist” had affair with police chief

[Formerly entitled “Is it just me, or is a big story about to break?”]

[Nov. 19: Dan Bice has another story which is drawing people here. I’m still perplexed as to why he identifies Ms. McBride as a “prominent” local journalist, or why he [the paper] allows linking to coverage on WTMJ-4 without bothering to point out the small fact that Journal Communications owns both the paper, the web site, WTMJ-4, and its AM radio counterpart on which Ms. McBride once had her own right-wing talk show. Sure, there’s a story here. But there’s a bigger one about the immensie media consolidation in Milwaukee and the nation. It is an issue, and a problem.]

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn admits to having an affair with Jessica McBride. (Or should I fully quote “prominent local journalist Jessica McBride” for the full comedic effect?) Video on TMJ-TV.

(TMJ is owned by Journal Communications, which also owns the conservative daily paper Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. McBride once wrote for that paper, and had a right-wing talk show on WTMJ. To be clear, the story that was going to break in today’s paper instead “broke” on air last night… but either way, Journal Communications profited off the folly of their right-wing hack. Ain’t local monopolies great?)

This quote on WALLAH! is stunningly clear now:

“If Jessica McBride says she wants to interview your husband for a feature story, don’t leave the room.”

Let’s hear it for journalistic integrity!

Ms. McBride
Ms. McBride

For this blog’s full coverage of Ms. McBride, please see my one and only previous post on the matter.

Also: Brew City Brawler has a very lengthy post on this.

Also 2: Illusory Tenant thoughtfully pointed out that McBride teaches journalistic ethics at UWM, yet she and the chief committed a Class I felony. We have to wonder if her once-mighty D.A. husband will press charges.

Also 3: Somehow I wasn’t aware that McBride wrote a glowing intimate profile of Chief Flynn for the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine. The comments at the end are especially choice. And the timing of the affair and the writing of the article are too close to be kosher. Flynn informed Mayor Barrett of his “indiscretion” on June 3rd; McBride’s article “The Cop Who Can’t Stop” is dated April 20, but it’s not at all clear when what all went down. So to speak.