Milwaukee has changed its image from brats-and-beer town to an exciting Midwestern culinary destination. Foodies have unlimited options when it comes to bars, cafes, and restaurants in the city. One can enjoy Milwaukee’s classics: empanadas, cheese curds, Southern-style barbecues, and breweries. But many will be pleased to know that the city’s culinary offerings now include European and Asian fare. Fine dining restaurants owned by James Beard awardees have also sprouted up in the city.
Thanks to this continuously developing culinary scene, Milwaukee needs expert architects to create the best dining destinations. In this list, our editors present 15 outstanding restaurant architects offering services in Milwaukee and the surrounding area. Most firms on the list are award-winning and have impressive portfolios. The list includes junior firms with at least 8 to 9 years in the industry, others are seasoned firms that have been in the field for over a century.
756 N. Milwaukee Street, Suite #250, Milwaukee, WI 53202
RINKA is a design collective that has continuously grown since 2006 thanks to its talented staff who collaborate to bring effective solutions to the table. Each member works with one goal: to create meaningful experiences for people through designing meaningful spaces. Calling themselves placemakers, the firm’s team members combine their expertise in architecture, interior, and new media design. Over the past 15 years, the collective has designed restaurants and other commercial projects in 15 states.
In Milwaukee, one of the firm’s outstanding projects is Good City Brewing Company. This exceptional project earned Wisconsin Crew’s 2016 People’s Choice Award. The firm took inspiration from the past, present, and future to create an extraordinary design for this brewery. Exposed bricks and steel frames are crucial elements in the structure’s industrial look. The industrial style expresses the city’s brewing history and craft beer innovation. The brewery has an open-concept layout that connects the indoors and the outdoors. This openness invites customers to walk in and experience what the brewery has to offer.
The firm’s stunning projects have been featured multiple times in the Milwaukee Business Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Its collaborative approach is something Matt Rinka has always promoted since he founded the firm. Currently, he guides 50 (and counting) design professionals. Rinka earned a Master’s degree from the University of Washington and is also an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
790 N Water Street, Suite #1700, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Kahler Slater is a global firm that has been in business for over 113 years, rendering it the most seasoned firm on this list. With four offices in the US and one in Singapore, the firm has taken its exceptional architecture, design, and environmental branding services to the global stage. Its longevity in the industry is due to its relentless pursuit to satisfy even the most challenging client needs. It is guided by its vision to enrich the lives of end-users. This is why the firm’s excellence can be seen and felt in every school, hotel, office, and restaurant the firm creates.
One of its restaurant projects in Milwaukee is Bacchus. Offering first-class cuisines and services, the restaurant needed a matching first-class design. Kahler Slater’s task was to improve Bacchus’ old look and turn it into a more elevated space that pleases all of the senses. The new restaurant features a sophisticated bar, a dining area with an amazing skylight, and a conservatory flooded with natural light. The new wall fixtures, flooring, and furnishings all contribute to the elegance of the space, making it truly a Bartolotta Restaurant.
Thanks to the firm’s admirable design vision, it won the 2021 and 2020 American Society of Interior Designers Wisconsin Design Excellence Awards.
GROTH Design Group
600 W Virginia Street, Suite #602, Milwaukee, WI 53204
Founded in 1994, GROTH Design Group is proud to be a major player in Milwaukee’s development. Milwaukee-based, with additional offices in Cedarburg and Appleton, the firm has consistently operated under the principles of architecture that serves its clients, the environment, and the community. It develops designs that reflect a client’s vision and character. It achieves its goals by listening attentively to clients and maintaining strong communication with stakeholders. With LEED Accredited Professionals, the firm develops spaces via sustainable practices.
One of the firm’s crucial projects in Milwaukee is Stone Creek Coffee – Downer Cafe & Kitchen. The first cafe on the city’s east side, the firm used a dormant space and turned it into a lively destination. It is now a significant part of the neighborhood thanks to its outdoor space that brings the community together. Featuring an industrial style, the design uses exposed beams and bricks with a black and white color scheme unique from other refurbished buildings in the neighborhood. This project rightfully earned the Milwaukee Mayor’s Design Award for Timely Transformations.
Keeping the firm on track with its vision is Mike Groth, the firm’s managing principal and founder. With over 25 years of industry experience, Groth has stayed true to the vision of serving the community by establishing top-notch quality facilities. Throughout his career, he has handled various corporate, hospitality, educational, community and healthcare projects across the Midwest.
The Kubala Washatko Architects
640 S 5th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204
Established in 1980, The Kubala Washatko Architects (TKWA) is a proven industry leader locally and internationally. It is the first registered Public Benefit Corporation in Wisconsin. It is also the first in the world to design a LEED-recognized Carbon Neutral and Net Zero New Construction project. These recognitions underline the firm’s dedication to sustainability and to serving the social good. The firm operates under the principle of wholeness. It believes that its work is part of a bigger picture that includes the environment and entire communities.
The firm’s vision was apparent when creating the plan for Cafe Bavaria located in Wauwatosa. Part of the firm’s responsibility to the environment is repurposing old buildings into spaces that benefit the people and community. For the Bavaria project, the firm converted a 1930’s commercial building into a 4,360-square-foot European-style restaurant. Inspired by traditional German beer halls, the design is a modern interpretation that combines traditional elements. Traditional materials like exposed timber and tables made of wood and iron were used in the project. Originally with a narrow building footprint, the structure has been redesigned to create more spaces for dining.
The firm’s environmentally-conscious designs are guided by co-founders Tom Kubala and Allen Washatko. Kubala, FAIA, has a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Washatko, AIA, is a fellow University of Illinois alumnus. Under their supervision, the firm has completed award-winning projects worthy of press features. Its projects have graced GMToday, The Daily Reporter, Milwaukee Business News, and Milwaukee Business Journal.
Engberg Anderson Architects
320 E Buffalo Street, Suite #500, Milwaukee, WI 53202
For Engberg Anderson Architects, everything starts with its team. Fostering a collaborative environment between members is crucial in developing new solutions and enhancing the creative process. Through its professional members, the firm provides superior architecture, planning, and interior design services. These services have been accessed by clients through its offices in Milwaukee, Tucson, Madison, and Chicago.
Since 1987, the firm has built many noteworthy projects around the US. In Milwaukee, the firm completed the Pabst Milwaukee Brewery + Taproom project. This project collected several awards including the 2017 Cream of the City Award for Historic Preservation. For the project, the firm renovated a historic church into a restaurant and craft brewery. It carefully preserved the structure’s original exterior façade while giving a modern update to the interior. On the ground floor, the structure contains a brewery; the second-floor houses the bar and restaurant. One of the facility’s unique features is the main bar with copper tanks in the center.
The firm is guided by five partners: Mark Ernst, Bill Robison, Joseph Huberty, Alexandra Ramsey, and Eric Ponto. Ernst and Robison, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, are both members of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Huberty is also a LEED AP with a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Ramsey, AIA, NCARB, is a Master of Architecture from Washington University. Ponto is a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus with a Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award from the UWM Alumni Association.
Galbraith Carnahan Architects
6404 W North Avenue, Wauwatosa, WI 53213
Established in 2012, Galbraith Carnahan Architects (GCA) is a relatively young firm that is continuously growing. For the past 9 years, its top-notch architecture services have been recognized by different publications. Architect Magazine, Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Business News, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are just some of the publications that have featured the firm.
GCA’s continuous growth is thanks to the firm’s exceptional customer service and superior designs. These qualities can be seen in all the firm’s projects, including Fiddleheads Shorewood. Completed in 2021, this 1,963-square-feet coffee house is a converted paint store in Shorewood. Taking advantage of the prime location, the firm designed the restaurant to be as open to patrons as possible. Located in a commercial corner, an al fresco seating area was in order. The exterior façade features the 1920s building’s red bricks, blending well with neighboring structures. Inside, the coffee shop has a modern design accentuated by contemporary lighting fixtures.
With partners Joe Galbraith and Nick Carnahan leading the firm, GCA takes a sustainable approach to its projects. The two are both AIA members, LEED APs, and alumni of the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee.
Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP
209 South Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204
Established in 1935, Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP is one of the most established firms in Milwaukee. As a seasoned firm, it has been featured in various publications including the WiscNews, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and EIN News. Over the last 87 years, it has consistently showcased its expertise in different aspects of design including commercial, interior, and hospitality design.
Showcasing its expertise in restaurant design is Jose’s Blue Sombrero. Located in Brookfield, this 6,500-square-foot restaurant renovation takes patrons to old-world Mexico. Design specifics include latilla ceilings, poured concrete bar tops, and stained concrete floors. Antique furniture, murals, and unique lighting fixtures complete the design.
Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP’s work is driven by passion. Driving this passion are twelve partners, working closely with eighty employees in four offices. The firm culture is set by the leadership of Scott A. Kramer, AIA, NCARB., an alumnus of the University of Florida.
Continuum Architects + Planners, S.C.
Historic George Watts Building, 751 N Jefferson Street, Suite #200, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Serving General Wisconsin, Continuum Architects + Planners is a Milwaukee-based firm with a unique success formula. It’s a balance between pragmatism and vision, creativity and practicality. The firm calls this proven approach intelligent optimism. The firm has handled a number of complex projects, some amounting to 140 million dollars. Whether it is an office, a restaurant, or a retail project, the company is sure to exceed expectations and provide excellent customer service.
In Milwaukee, one of its outstanding projects is Orenda Cafe. The project, completed in 2018, won two awards including the 2020 Milwaukee Mayor’s Award. This important project breathes life into Milwaukee’s Silver Spring neighborhood. The cafe is located on the first floor of a formerly abandoned building turned into a revitalized mixed-use facility. Storefront glass, modern lighting fixtures, and cement sidings were used to give the space a modern look. The design features a combination of black, white, and blue, to make this cafe a bright contemporary space.
Continuum Architects + Planners has graced the pages of The Daily Reporter, Milwaukee Business Journal, and Milwaukee Business News. Its exceptional projects and services are inspired by its co-founders, Falamak Nourzad and Robert Barr. Falamak is an expert in adaptive reuse. She is a LEED AP, an AIA member, and affiliated with NCARB. Barr, AIA, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His expertise includes complex technical projects.
Think Design, LLC
1238 12th Ave, Suite 300, Grafton, WI 53024
The youngest firm on the list, Think Design creates inspired living. That means creating spaces that enrich the human experience. The firm builds structures that inspire creativity and productivity while fulfilling its functions. It recognizes that clients have specific needs so all services it provides are personalized. This approach is applied to all of the firm’s commercial and residential projects.
A great example of the firm’s commercial projects is the Brandywine restaurant, located in a historic building that once served as the town’s general store. This 2,300-square-foot restaurant has a modern farmhouse style inspired by the restaurant’s theme: a farm-to-table culinary experience. Located in Cedarburg, the restaurant features hardwood floors, a live-edge wood bartop, and industrial-styled accents. The restaurant also includes a new commercial kitchen, a variety of seating atmospheres, and restrooms.
The firm’s stunning work has been featured in Wisconsin Architect, BizTimes, Ozaukee Press and MKE Lifestyle Magazine. Guiding these projects is Founder and Lead Design Architect Joshua Wadzinski, AIA, NCARB, LEED GA. Wadzinski has over 21 years of industry experience. His projects focus on environmental responsibility and collaboration. He has both a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
311 E. Chicago Street, Suite #240, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Winner of the 2021 Dane County Small Business Awards, JLA Architects is a 14-year-old firm offering a full range of architecture and planning services. Its expertise includes mixed-use, multifamily, hospitality, and recreational projects. With offices in Milwaukee, Madison, and Colorado, the firm offers its outstanding services to clients all over the US.
A sample of the firm’s restaurant projects is Buck & Honey’s restaurant in Monona. Located next to a riverfront, the firm added large windows providing waterfront views in the design. The restaurant’s stunning interior features curved lines creating an extra dimension in the space. This two-story restaurant has two bars, two commercial kitchens, and a 180-seating capacity. With a total of 10,950 square feet, the facility is spacious enough to accommodate large events. The restaurant also has an outdoor patio, taking full advantage of the waterfront views. This stunning design earned two awards from the Best of Madison Awards 2021, including Best Event Dining.
Behind the firm’s success is its president and principal, Joseph Lee. He has an architecture degree and a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Wade Weissmann Architecture, Inc.
8655 N Deerwood Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53209
Founded in 1996, Wade Weissmann Architecture (WWA) creates enduring spaces with a classic style appropriate for modern times. It creates these spaces through a talented pool of employees who are members of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and AIA. These members are experts in custom, timeless architecture. They are headed by Wade W. Weissmann, AIA, NCARB, president of the firm. A master’s degree holder from the University of Pennsylvania, Weismann brings his deep passion for arts to creating exceptional restaurants, retail, and residences in Milwaukee and the surrounding area.
The firm’s professional services reach other parts of the US through its offices in Santa Barbara and Pittsburgh. One of the firm’s stand-out projects is the Kindred Restaurant. The firm’s design was inspired by the concept of kinship. Celebrating relationships, the restaurant’s spacious hall puts a long wooden table at the center. The entire building has an industrial style that simultaneously celebrates the past and the future. Warm tones are seen in each corner of the restaurant, generating a welcoming atmosphere. Reclaimed wood, hardwood floors, and exposed beams give character to the entire space.
WWA’s sophisticated designs have been featured in many publications including Upscale Living Magazine, Architect Blueprint, and California Homes.
Stephen Perry Smith Architects, Inc.
215 N Water Street, Suite #250, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Included on the 2017 Best Architects in Milwaukee list by the Milwaukee Business Journal, Stephen Perry Smith Architects is a small, flexible firm employing a one-on-one approach. That approach enables the firm to individually deal with clients and put a more personal touch on each project. Established in 1992, the firm offers outstanding architecture, interior design, and planning services to clients in Wisconsin and beyond. The firm is also licensed to operate in Illinois, Arizona, and Missouri.
The firm’s industry expertise can be seen in its long list of accomplished projects. One of these is Foxtown Brewing, a historic restoration project in Mequon, Wisconsin. The firm brought new life to an 1857 building and turned it into a fully-functioning restaurant and brewery. The preservation of the existing structure was carefully completed while adding new elements. Cream City brick and reclaimed wood were added to preserve the historical design of the building. Inside, the bar features a 150-year-old reclaimed oak with a hammered-copper bar top. One of the facility’s highlights is the lager caves beneath the restaurant with a hearth historically used for brewing.
Guiding the firm’s inspired designs is Stephen Perry Smith, AIA, president of the firm. He is also a registered architect in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Illinois with a degree from the University of Illinois School of Architecture.
Madisen Maher Architects
700 W Virginia Street, Suite #604, Milwaukee, WI 53204
Madisen Maher Architects’s (MMA) success is a result of a strong collaborative approach. That approach begins with its principals, Erik Madisen and Sean Maher, both AIA members and alumni of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Madisen brings his experience from various architecture firms to the table. He acted as president of Madisen Architects based in Milwaukee. Maher, NCARB, has experience in various firms as well, including SLMaher Architectural Group based in Brookfield where he served as president. Maher and Madisen’s combined experience serves as pillars for the firm’s excellent standing in the industry.
Attacking each project with a collaborative approach, the firm has built many restaurants, dealership centers, and corporate facilities in Wisconsin and Illinois. One of these is First Watch located in Oak Creek. This award-winning restaurant needed a design that met its brand’s intention. Specializing in morning dining service, the restaurant is designed to capture the essence of daylight. Storefront glass panels are prominent in the design, bringing plenty of natural light into the restaurant. Featuring an urban farm style, the design combines rustic and modern elements to create a unique space. Reclaimed wood, red bricks, and modern lighting fixtures complement each other to produce a warm, inviting space for dining guests.
311 E Chicago Street, Suite #310, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Registered in 37 US states, SHA-A2K has the capacity to serve clients all over the US. Thanks to an NCARB-certification, it can add other locations to its existing licenses. Founded in 1972, the firm has established itself as one of the most credible firms in Milwaukee and the surrounding area. It consistently delivers top-notch architectural, master planning, and interior design services to a variety of institutions. Included in the markets it serves are restaurants, theaters, schools, and retail and office spaces.
One of SHA-A2K’s restaurant projects is Scramblers. This 3,533-square-foot renovation project is designed to accommodate up to 160 guests. Additional seating is found on the patio, ideal for enjoying warmer months. As a breakfast restaurant chain, the design features bright interiors accomplished through plenty of lighting fixtures and a combination of white, yellow, and dark colors. To ensure the success of the project, the firm worked closely with the contractor and restaurant owner. This project is carefully designed as it is the chain’s first branch in Wisconsin.
David Baum, AIA, NCARB, firm president, supervises the entire operation. He has an extensive portfolio that includes complex, large-scale projects. Baum is driven by excellence and the desire to set higher standards on every project the firm takes on.