Though its name and location both recall a heavy industrial past, Milwaukee Caffe in a former automotive manufacturing neighborhood in Detroit is all about executing the finer details of coffee from within a small but welcoming space.
From co-owners Carlo Liburdi and Ashley Davidson, the small shop opened last month in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, offering walk-up service. Liburdi, a first-generation Italian-American, and Davidson, who spent five years living and in Italy and studying in Milan, envisioned a fresh take on the traditional Italian coffee bar.
“Italians drink their coffee fast and at the bar,” Davidson told DCN. “We wanted to create something friendly and approachable, something that feels timeless and will draw as many people out on the sidewalk as possible.”
The cafe itself is next door to Davidson and Liburdi’s first bar, the cocktail bar Kiesling, which opened in 2018 inside a formerly abandoned building. Both businesses have been able to leverage Davidson’s experience in urban planning and creative branding.
Davidson, Liburdi and cafe manager David Valdez all contributed to the design of Milwaukee Caffe, which involved knocking down part of a brick wall to create a large opening that now serves as a de facto walkup window for takeout orders. Above the retracting front windows is a street lamp fabricated by Spanish lighting designer Arturo Alvarez.
The shop itself takes up less than 200 square feet, much of which is occupied by the S-shaped coffee bar layered with dark green tiles complemented by pink grout. The original ceiling tile was refurbished, and the back wall pops with green Venetian plaster.
“We wanted the cafe to feel like a hug when you walk in,” said Davidson, “something that was welcoming and friendly.”
With a La Marzocco Linea next to a Mahlkönig EK43 S and a Fetco batch brewer, Milwaukee currently offers a menu of individual pourovers, cold brew, and espresso drinks. With plans to carry coffees from multiple roasters, Davidson, Liburdi and Valdez opened with Detroit’s Anthology Coffee as the house espresso and drip. Currently, pourover coffees are coming from Corktown’s Astro Coffee.
Anthology has been instrumental in helping bring Milwaukee Caffe to life, according to manager Valdez, who worked at a handful of Bay Area cafes in California before spending months learning about coffee in Mexico and Guatemala prior to moving to Detroit.
“Anthology helped a ton as we were opening this place,” Valdez. “The coffee community here is small but very inclusive. Everyone wants everyone to succeed.”
Milwaukee was slated to open in March, but that was put on hold for obvious reasons.
“We wanted to open in March, but as you know, that’s right when COVID hit,” said Davidson. “Luckily, the cafe was designed to accommodate a quick pit stop for an espresso. Customers can walk up to the window, order and be on their way. The only real difference right now is that we’re just not allowing any customers inside.”
Milwaukee Caffe is now open at 447 East Milwaukee Street in Detroit.
Craig Batory is a writer, marketer and coffee professional working and living in Detroit.