Jennifer is a one in a million stay-at-home mom. (More like one OF a million stay at home moms!) She graduated from a liberal arts college but there is nothing liberal OR artsy about her. She is married to Kevin Fischer of This Just In, and together they have a beautiful young daughter Kyla Audrey. In no particular order she loves dogs, wine, a good bargain, her family, pizza, and entertaining. Follow her blog of all things miscellaneous including but not limited to cooking and baking, entertaining and party planning, being a mommy, and homekeeping.
Earlier this month I blogged about a wonderful display of generosity from the Packing House.
Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Chris Wiken, general manager of that fine establishment. Facebook updates are good, but I wanted to get all the details of what has quickly become a tradition for their restaurant. It’s called Heart of Milwaukee and I personally can’t imagine a better name for what they are doing.
Chris told me that when he heard about the terrible fire at Roz Auto Salvage, it really struck him. He thought about how Roz’s is a family business (like the Packing House) and he thought about how it affected their “heart and soul.” He wanted to do something to help them in their time of need, so the next day he called to ask if they’d be interested in receiving fish fries for lunch. Who on earth would turn down an offer like that, right? Chris said it felt great to do something positive to help their neighbor in a time of need.
Soon after, he realized that a special thank you should be given to the folks who helped Roz’s the most – the firefighters of Engine 13. So he contacted the fire chief at the station, and asked the same question. No surprise he was given the same answer: yes, they would certainly love a donation of fish fry lunches!
And that, quite simply, is how Heart of Milwaukee came to be. Chris explained how the name evolved: “I think Heart of Milwaukee sums it up perfectly... Being able to make a positive contribution to Milwaukee as a whole, and to our nearby community. And what’s more 'Milwaukee' than a fish fry?” He said he feels fortunate to be able to celebrate the Packing House’s 40th year of business, and that they wouldn’t be able to without the support of that same community.
In addition to Roz’s and Engine 13, Heart of Milwaukee has donated fish fries to South Shore Cyclery (they had recently helped boy scouts earn badges), St. Francis Library (a very positive member of the area) and their largest donation was enthusiastically received by Ronald Regan High School – 100 fish fries! The school was recently named one of Wisconsin's best high schools in a US News & World Report annual ranking. The donation was a perfect end-of-year celebration for the teachers and staff and everyone was extremely grateful.
Chris also added that “it’s not just about dropping off fish fries and heading out the door.” The recipients have time to talk to Chris and some of the restaurant staff and get to know each other. When they delivered to RRHS, Chris got a personal tour of the school from the principal.
I asked him about the difficulty in the restaurant business of a notoriously low profit margin, and how they are able to maintain this generous campaign. His answer? “We can’t afford NOT to do this.” He shared how over their 40 years in business, the Packing House has maintained a smaller profit margin in order to keep their prices lower than others. He said from young couples just starting out to established families coming for decades, the Packing House is a place that everyone can come to for an enjoyable and affordable meal. He conceded that grocery prices are skyrocketing for them just like for any other family. From produce to dairy to meat, it’s a challenge to the budget. Again, he emphasized, they are so proud and happy to give back to their local community that it is worth it.
As far as determining the local recipients, Chris says that they scan the news and social media for stories about businesses, organizations, non-profits, etc. who are making a positive contribution to Milwaukee. He said that all too often, we hear the negative news and don’t know enough about the great things that are going on with our neighbors. Heart of Milwaukee hopes to change that. With the “phenomenal response” to this grass-roots effort, Chris told me that people are already asking him how they can be considered for a donation. “Who am I to say no?” he says.
I questioned if he thought Heart of Milwaukee would inspire others to do similar acts of kindness. “I can only hope,” he replied.
Thank you for a fantastic interview, Mr. Wiken and thank you for your kindness through Heart of Milwaukee. Here’s to another 40 years of a fabulous supper club – the wonderful Packing House!