The modernist café Discourse opens its third location, and the downtown spot will be its flagship café: in addition to a food menu and a stronger focus on seasonality and waste reduction, the new location will offer vinyl records, books and furniture for lounging.
The first day of the cafe open to the public at 1020 N. Broadway is Sunday; regular hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Hours may change to accommodate customer needs, Discourse founder Ryan Castelaz said.
“It’s really amazing to have the space and the team to do the things that we wanted to do and explore forever,” he said.
The cafe will offer the beverages it has become known for, including vacuum-packed coffee and creative flavor combinations for hot and cold caffeinated beverages, as well as pour-over coffee and espresso drinks such as lattes.
Starting in November, Discourse will change its seasonal drink menu monthly instead of quarterly. All three locations will serve three new experimental drinks each month instead of seven or eight drinks for three months.
“It will allow us to dig deeper into what’s ‘right now,'” Castelaz said.
One drink Discourse offers in the fall is the Clyde: mango, tamarind, chai concentrate, oat milk, nutmeg and optional espresso.
One food menu item that’s new to Discourse at the downtown cafe is called the Bonnie bun, to be paired with the Clyde (yes, they’re named after bank robbers). It’s a morning bun of turmeric and cardamom brioche dough rolled up with mango-tamarind dough and glazed with Greek yogurt, honey and sumac.
The food menu will be brief to start, Castelaz said – cold dishes now, hot dishes to add in the winter.
The four takeouts at the start will include a buttermilk-brined chicken salad with umeboshi plum, pickled cherry, rosemary mayonnaise and beet greens; open smørrebrød, homemade Danish rye with homemade smoked salmon, raw onion, pickled cucumber and dill-lemon cream cheese spread; beet salad; and carrot salad.
Discourse will also offer yogurt parfaits with layers including yuzu marmalade and blueberry granola.
“The food is interesting, thoughtful and complex. It goes hand in hand with our drinks,” Castelaz said.
Some baked goods will come from Matilda Bakehouse; others, like the Bonnie bun, are made by Discourse’s own bakers, Louis Byers and Frankie Hartmann. Homemade baked goods will include goat cheese, dill and chili scones and chocolate and balsalmic blackberry scones.
Having a kitchen as well as a cafe means Discourse will be able to make gains in sustainability and waste reduction, Castelaz said.
For example, excess steamed milk that doesn’t fit in a latte or cappuccino will be cooled instead of thrown away, so kitchen staff can make ricotta.
“All ricotta is twice-cooked milk. We only do it once on a steamer wand,” Castelaz said.
Castelaz started Discourse in Sister Bay in Door County in 2017. In 2021, he moved Discourse to Milwaukee, operating it first as a pop-up in the city, then settling into the Crossroads Collective food hall in the east side in February.
Discourse began a summer residency at the Milwaukee Art Museum in April, serving the museum’s lakeside restaurant. Discourse’s stay there is now extended until December 31. Hours of operation for the Discourse Museum Café are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday to Sunday; Thursdays are open until 7:30 p.m.
The new downtown location is in the renovated building that houses Direct Supply’s Innovation and Technology Center. Owned by a branch of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the structure was built from 1890 to 1892 for the German-English Academy, according to the state historical records.
Discourse’s 1,600-square-foot space in the Broadway building was always intended to be a cafe open to the public, Castelaz said.
Direct Supply originally approached him about opening Discourse there more than three years ago, but the timing wasn’t right, he said. after a few more coffees had fallen in the meantime, Direct Supply asked again this year, and this time Discourse was ready.
He describes the new flagship café as “Grown speech”.
“It’s like the old space,” in Sister Bay, “but better in every way,” he said. “When I first did Discourse, I was 22, broke and knew nothing.” To equip his first cafe, he turned to thrift stores or Amazon.
“This space has really, really grown. It’s what 23-year-old Ryan wanted to build but couldn’t.”
Direct Supply having renovated the framework of the space, in particular by providing sockets to recharge devices where customers could be seated, Castelaz was able to concentrate on equipment and decoration.
“The vibe is exactly what I like in a cafe,” he said: cozy, where “you just want to nestle in and be there all day.” For example, the bay windows of the space will be equipped with large cushions, to make a seating area.
Like the original Door County site, Discourse on Broadway has vinyl records for patrons to spin (the amplifier and turntable are vintage) and books to read.
He also calls the new flagship cafe “a space worthy of the caliber of talent we have on the team.” Castelaz, whose Discourse partners are Olivia Molter and Sean Liu, said Discourse’s career baristas represent 60 years of experience.
“Really, I’m maybe the fifth or sixth best barista on my team,” said Castelaz, whose book “The New Art of Coffee: From Morning Cup to Caffeine Cocktail” is published by Rizzoli in april.
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