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Robots Attack Le Rêve! (But the Day Is Saved)

Ripping up one of our favorite restaurants to get massive vaults out is no job for mere mortals. A milestone piece of demolition may make the cafe famous in other ways.

Yes, industrial-strength, remote-controlled robots have pounded and chewed our beloved Village bistro to bits.

If you're a lover of Le Rêve Patisserie & Café, the photos might make you want to weep.

When the owners announced the favored French restaurant would be shutting down for some remodeling, adding a bit of space to the kitchen area, it didn't sound like too big a deal.

In fact, they had the place gutted. Gutted, we repeat... by giant robots.

But never fear, Le Rêve will reopen before long, remade as fresh as a still-warm croissant. A firm date hasn't been set because of the extent of the work – which may just bring one of Wauwatosa's best-known dining spots new fame as a demolition site.

The contractor, subcontractors and equipment manufacturer doing the work have decided to band together to document the wickedly tricky work they've been doing for an article for the construction trades magazines.

Dahlman Construction Co. is the general contractor on the job, and its engineers found quite a set of tasks in front of them. Inside the confined space, operators would need to figure out a way to safely remove thick, reinforced, fortress-like concrete walls.

Relics of the early Village

The 100-year-old building began life as a bank, and in it were two vaults. The one on the ground floor was encased in walls 20 inches thick. Daunting? Not compared to the other vault, perched above the first on the harder-to-get-at second floor, and with walls 30 inches thick.

It's easy to assume that in the many years since it housed the bank, nobody bothered to remove the vaults because it just couldn't be done in any reasonable fashion.

Dahlman hired Interstate Sawing, a West Bend company, to take on the toughest part of the job, and brought in representatives from manufacturer Husquvarna to consult on specialized equipment.

According to Duke Long, owner and president of Interstate Sawing, the job is turning out to be a milestone in the business – being carried out almost entirely by remote-controlled robots.

"This would have been next to impossible until recently," Long said, "and it would have been really unsafe for the operators in these confines. But with these new systems, they can stand back and let the machines do the work."

Robotic machines are back-savers

A front window had to be taken out of the restaurant to get the largest robots inside, huge jack-hammers and claws on crawlers. They look like smaller versions of the diesel shovels you see at typical construction sites, but there is no cab. The operator stands off to the side, getting a good look at his work and thumbing away at what looks like a video-game controller.

There also is no diesel engine. The machines are all-electric.

"There is no need for gas inside the building," Long said. "No dangerous fumes, much-reduced risk of fire, better conditions all around for the operator."

Sawing, of course, is Long's main business, and robots do that, now, too. Imagine manhandling a wall saw with a 48-inch blade....

"Flush-cutting a 20- or 30-inch wall used to be a killer," Long said. "A man would have that thing strapped to his waist. Just a lot of back injuries."

Now, as the accompanying photos show, the operator can lean his back up comfortably against a wall – and perhaps think of stopping back in a month or two for dinner.

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