City Set to Turn Away Chain Restaurants from East Tosa

Zoning change would prohibit new "formula restaurants" on North Avenue between 60th and 76th streets as business district turns more eclectic. A public hearing is scheduled for March 11.

With broad-based support on the Common Council, Wauwatosa seems set to prohibit chain restaurants on North Avenue in East Tosa.

Under a proposed amendment to the zoning code, the city could reject "formula restaurants" from the business district that stretches 16 blocks from North 60th Street to Wauwatosa Avenue (76th Street).

  • For more on reaction to this proposal, see the WISN 12 news report attached to this article.

The measure was introduced Tuesday night at a meeting of the Committee of the Whole by Ald. Joel Tilleson of the 5th District, which includes the north side of the avenue.

Prohibited by the zoning change would be any restaurant meeting the criteria of a formula restaurant, which include:

  • ownership of 11 or more establishments in the United States having a significantly common menu;
  • standardized building design, decor and color scheme;
  • trademarks;
  • staff apparel;
  • signage.

As introduced, Tilleson's proposal offered the Common Council the opportunity to impose the ban on either or both the North Avenue/East Tosa district and the Village district.

There is also a provision for a review and possible acceptance of any business that might meet the "formula restaurant" criteria and yet be approved for other reasons.

Village excluded for the time being

By strong consensus, the council decided to exclude the Village from the proposal, at least for now, but to give it a try in East Tosa, which asked for it.

Tilleson's motion on the amendment was seconded and championed by Ald. Cheryl Berdan of the west side 7th District.

"I see this as both pro-business and pro-community," Berdan said.

Tilleson said the zoning change was eagerly backed by the East Tosa Alliance, the group that created the North Avenue Plan for business revitalization. The Village Business Improvement District has not weighed in, and that difference weighed heavily with aldermen in choosing to exclude the Village.

There was, in fact, a solid majority of the 15 council members present who were ready to approve the motion and send it immediately to final approval minutes later in the regular meeting of the Common Council.

Among those voicing favor were Alds. Pete Donegan, Jim Moldenhauer of District 1 and Tilleson's counterpart in the 5th, Bobby Pantuso. But support came from every part of Tosa, and no one said a word in opposition.

Public to have a say in decision

The majority bowed to a minority, though, when Alds. Kathleen Causier, Dennis McBride and Jeff Roznowski — all of whom said they supported the idea — argued that the amendment deserved a public hearing.

With that, it was unanimously referred to stops before the Plan Commission on March 11 and then the Community Development Committee before it heads back to the full council. 

Tilleson said his amendment was spurred by metro business demand, and not just by locals.

"East Tosa properties are in such high demand now," he said. "There are more people wanting to get in than there are places available. So we have a high demand and a low supply in the market."

Since the creation and adoption of the North Avenue Plan in 2011, a number of new independent or small-group businesses have already come in, beginning with Rocket Baby Bakery, the first to receive public assistance and to open on the avenue under the plan. 

The biggest influencer so far has been the upcoming BelAir Cantina, a hip Mexi-Cali place soon to open on the southwest corner of 68th and North, dead center in the district.

BelAir is the second restaurant of that name in the metro area — the first is on Water Street in downtown Milwaukee — and is owned by the Mojofuco Restaurants group. Mojofuco owns five other small cafes besides the two BelAirs, none of which is "branded" in any of the ways covered by the zoning change.

BelAir's entry prompted another restaurateur, Martin Beadoin, owner of the Red Dot, 2498 N. Bartlett Ave. on Milwaukee's east side, to buy Shepherd's Sports Bar. It will become the Sherbrook, modeled on BelAir but with a different (and to-be-determined) theme and menu.

Coming and existing chains safe from zoning ban

Sources who did not wish to be identified because of ongoing area business negotiations told Wauwatosa Patch that it was a sign of the times that a number of Milwaukee-area interests had their eyes on the Dairy Queen property on North.

But DQ corporate is turning the property over to Wing Stop, another fast food chain, in a lease agreement that the neighborhood and the city are fairly powerless to stop.

Tilleson though, said his proposal was not reactive to Wing Stop or any other business that might have wanted to come in — and in fact, as City Attorney Alan Kesner confirmed, won't halt Wing Stop from opening on North.

"Their application is in," Kesner said. "With that, they are covered under the existing zoning code."

The district is home to a McDonald's, a Subway and a KFC; those and any other existing businesses that might otherwise fall under the new zoning would be grandfathered and unaffected by it.

Tilleson said that his introduction of the formula restaurant prohibition was keyed to a larger discussion of Zoning Code updates and that he would have introduced it "two months ago before Wing Stop was on the radar or two months from now after it was already approved," had the zoning discussion not coincided.

Giving local small businesses a boost

Tilleson's amendment, researched and drafted by Kesner, notes that:

"Money earned by independent businesses is more likely to circulate within the local neighborhood and City economy than the money earned by formula restaurant businesses which often have corporate offices and vendors located outside of Wauwatosa..." and:

"Formula restaurant businesses can have a competitive advantage over independent operators because they are typically better capitalized and can absorb larger startup costs, pay more for lease space, and commit to longer lease contracts. This can put pressure on existing businesses and potentially price out new startup independent businesses."

With the high demand from more local and unique businesses in the district, Tilleson said, it was time for action to give local interests a chance to work their way into properties that too often just change corporate hands.

"We've seen a lot of these places change hands from one chain to another," he said, "and so in one way we're trying to minimize the chance that a business might fail.

"If you were doing this citywide, you'd run into trouble. It has to be narrowly tailored. We're saying, 'Let us help you find a place you can flourish.'"

Restaurant group raises cautions

Not everyone is so sure the prohibition is a good idea.

Pete Hanson, vice president of public relations for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, had a couple of quibbles without having had the opportunity really to study the Wauwatosa ordinance.

"What about some of the locally founded restaurants," Hanson said. "Would Wauwatosa not allow a Chancery in? The Chancery has been in Wauwatosa forever – I think it was founded there. Would they let a George Webb in?

"You also have to remember that whenever you see a branded restaurant anywhere in the country, it's usually owned by a franchisee, someone who lives in your community, pays taxes, sends their kids to the same schools your kids go to – and are selling a product people clearly want."

"And finally," Hanson said, "an ordinance like this can reduce competition. You're saying to the consumers in your community, 'You may have to pay higher prices.'

"So, while I'm not definitely saying what Wauwatosa is doing is wrong, I would caution against not allowing certain types of restaurants. It's usually not a good thing for consumers."

Every rule has an exception

The prohibition is not absolute and final even for East Tosa. A provision allows for approvals of formulaic chain establishments within a prohibited zone if it can be shown that it fills a void in demand under certain conditions.

For instance, a new mixed-use development with retail spaces might be allowed to tenant a chain coffee shop or cafe — Alterra, Starbucks and Panera were all names tossed around by council members.

Tilleson said that similar prohibitions have beeen created and stood up to tests of law in a number of communities in California. A New York Times story details one such ban in South Los Angeles.

And there is even a precedent in Wisconsin, he said. Sister Bay, in Door County, instituted a formula restaurant ban, was sued by a sub sandwich chain — and won.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered that proposition after Subway tried to become the first fast food chain to enter the Door County community.

mcanders February 22, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Finally! Our elected officials are listening! Go Tosa!
ann February 22, 2013 at 02:24 PM
Yes, kick out Mcdonalds, Subway, etc and welcome in more African braiding shops, wig shops, etc. Nothing wrong with chain restaurants if they are run correctly. Most chains are not corporately owned, they are a franchise, a small business person just trying to make a buck. Typical short sighted liberal no business acumen Tosa Townies.
ann February 22, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Ms McLaughlin you do realize that evil corporation that owns Qdoba is not the real owner of any restaurant, right? Do you know about the concept of a franchise?
Nick Schweitzer February 22, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Who are you people to say who deserves to start a business in a part of town or not. Ann is correct. Most of these businesses are LOCALLY OWNED... they are Franchises which are owned by people in our city. Shame on all of you. And whoever called this "Pro Business" in the article is full of it. How do you call a measure banning businesses from a part of town pro-business? This is anti-business. East Tosa already has a huge vacancy problem in it's store fronts. And now you want to further restrict who can legally operate a business there? Why? Because an O'Reilly Auto Parts got in? Maybe from now on the Common Council should also have a say on what types of people are allowed to buy homes in Wauwatosa. Maybe we could restrict on income level, or the amount of education you have. Why is it OK to put nonsense restrictions on the types of businesses we have, when we'd never allow that for the types of home owners we have?
Nick Schweitzer February 22, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Yes! Of course! Let's centrally plan everything so that everyone gets a say in everyone else's business. Too many busy bodies in this city.
Nick Schweitzer February 22, 2013 at 03:21 PM
You see already we have issues... If 6 is OK, why not 7, or 10, or 15? Let's start making the rules so that only the businesses we already like can get in, and artificially exclude anyone else.
Random Blog Commenter February 22, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Hope this done with the understanding that the unintended consequences fairy has been having a field day in Wauwatosa lately. The Mickey D's on North Ave Is the most diverse place on North Ave with people from all walks of life. The newer places, not so much. Be a shame if we became like Shorewood in that respect.
ann February 22, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Once again the liberals elites in the city halls want to pick the winners and losers. And in the end, the cancer that is Milwaukee will keep creeping slowly west until the next meeting will be what do with 76th Street and west because 60-76th will be nothing but boarded up buildings. Typical Tosa Townies, they want to subsidize new businesses(Rocket Baby) at the expense of Cranky Als(where is his subsidy?).
Ken Edwards February 22, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Amen, I agree totally!!!
ann February 22, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Think about the stupidity of the board, limiting business of franchise restaurants on North Ave, but not saying boo about the FRANCHISES OF MAY FAIR MALL!!! Why are chains okay at Mayfair but not North Ave?
Christine McLaughlin February 22, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Ann, oh dear: I never said anything about "evil corporations." What I think we'd do well to avoid is duplicating more commercial strips of the kind you find in every city: McDonald's, Dairy Queen, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, Arby's, then repeat. Or the more posh version: Starbucks, Panera, Culvers, Olive Tree, then repeat. I'm not against any of those. I just think it's bad when they become the majority of available choices, when they squeeze out the local and unique. Of course I understand "franchise," which includes more than one type of ownership. I don't hear anyone saying get rid of them. The plan is to grandfather them in. The idea is to not have the same handful of chains in every part of the city. Don't you like having some places you can find some things and other places you can find others?
ann February 22, 2013 at 03:50 PM
The market should determine that Mrs McLaughlin, not a bunch of folks in city hall who have very little experience in business and want to protect their friends who have businesses. It's called restraint of trade, limit of choices, and thus will result in dilapitated buildings and squalor, like much of North Ave going east.
Nick Schweitzer February 22, 2013 at 04:25 PM
What is the worry Christine? First of all... those franchises are popular. People buy their product, or they wouldn't stay in East Tosa for long. Secondly, when was the last time a major chain setup shop in East Tosa? Is this something to even worry about? Why can't we have a mix of chain and non-chain businesses? Isn't that diversity a good thing? I think the problem is that YOU don't want these businesses there, and so you're trying to use the force of law to get your will done. As far as your "desire" to have some places you find some places and other things you can find at others... Why is that something that should be codified in to law? What about people who like convenience? And why shouldn't it be acceptable for there to be repeats of some restaurants all over the city? Some nights I want something fast to eat, so I go to a chain. Other nights I might take my wife to a nice dinner at Il Mito. I think its nice that I don't have to drive all over the city to do that... that the VARIETY exists in all parts of the city. Once again, none of your DESIRES are things that should be enforced through LAW.
Satori February 22, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Morning Alfred. Drinking already?
Diane February 22, 2013 at 05:28 PM
I think banning chains is extreme. I love the new local places on North Ave and patronize them on occasion. But I agree that franchisees are frequently local and there is a market for them. If I am in the mood for Subway, I'm going to Subway and a local store wont change that. Its a different product and it is short sighted to exclude those businesses entirely. I agree with others that while it is good to encourage local start ups, we need variety.
anita February 22, 2013 at 06:39 PM
I can see this is a controversial issue, and I can see both sides of the argument. However, Tosa has a really cool thing going on, lots of small businesses with some personality. I like that. I don't want chains located in a small walkable neighborhood. Yeah, I like Noodles, but I don't like its location. It will suck the charm right out. Want Hwy 100 on your street? Not me. Local is the way to go.
Randy1949 February 22, 2013 at 07:25 PM
small businesses barely making ends meet? I doubt many of them are making 10 % on their investment. Continue to starve North Ave and it will be Milwaukee's version of North Ave....wig shops and boarded up buildings.
anita February 22, 2013 at 07:47 PM
Barely making ends meet? Cafe Hollander, Flower Lady, Bartolotta's, Pizzaria Picolla, Leff's, Colonel Hart's, Hector's, Chancery, Little Read Book, Ruby Red, U-Turn, Rocket Baby, Cranky Al's, Ono Kine Grindz, Walter's, North Avenue Grill, Soon to arrive Bel Aire Cantina, Rosebud, Juniper 61, Cosmo's.....Srsly? Until you have a look at their books, I don't think you can decide if their income is lucrative enough to have a business. I think you might be surprised.
Ray Ray Johnson February 22, 2013 at 07:51 PM
McDonalds, KFC, Subway, and DQ are already there. They are probably the most patronized places between 68th and 60th. Converesly, West of there are some nice little shops, but I doubt they have the same amount of patronage. Along with the moratorium, how about community marketing seminars for the owners of the independent shops? I'm all for limiting the business presence to inde's, but let's help the inde's make it. Some of the owners are terrible at marketing and as such, they are not making it. Not to pick on Wauwatosa Grill, but they sure could use some help with marketing consulting. I'm sure they aren't alone. A good product is no guarantee of success. Let's do two things: limit chains, and help small business there with marketing training.
Random Blog Commenter February 22, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Anita lists many fine businesses, all of which are doing just fine without a heavy handed ordinance
Tom Gaertner February 22, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Dang. I was holding out hope for a Waffle House.
jbw February 23, 2013 at 02:09 AM
Meh. As the prices on food, energy, and health insurance have gone up more than 20% a year and business has dropped off, I've cut back on restaurant purchases from once or twice a week to once every month or two. After next year's price hikes that will probably go to zero. It was really the last bit of consumer spending I had left after cutting other things each year to make up the difference with higher costs for the last 10 years. As a skilled cook I probably don't miss it as much as most people. I also don't miss the random street thugs that frequent east North Ave (recent armed robberies at that Subway and KFC not withstanding). Those independent guys make some great food, but I'm saving up for the next price hike on the $10k deductible insurance plan and electric bill. Don't forget to make spending cutbacks for the upcoming water and property tax increases, too. Still, if you can find people to spend $20 on a sandwich for lunch, then more power to you. Is that where all those healthcare dollars are going, perhaps?
alt ideas needed February 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM
the city is way too late on this issue - chains all over the city, even in the village, have made Wauwatosa an inhospitable place for small businesses to prosper. But then again, the city knows what is best for all of us.
KAY KRISTIN February 24, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Geez....once again, government stepping in to make our decisions for us. If the people in the area don't want a certain business, it won't be frequented and it will be on its way out....if the amount of customers dictates opening another location, so be it! After all -- isn't it about stimulating the economy? What good does it do to prohibit a chain and put a different store there? The people who want to frequent the chain are going to go to wherever the nearest next one is....they're not going to be forced into going into a store they don't want to frequent....BACK OFF, GOVERNMENT!!! You're gettin' too danged big for your britches!
Random Blog Commenter February 25, 2013 at 04:36 PM
KKP, This isn't about the progressive people who live there and what restaurants they go to. They don't mind the higher-end chains like Panera or Starbucks. They don't like the McDonalds and WingStops of the world because they draw people to the neighborhood who are not like them -- the non-affluent of every race, creed or color. This is their "tasteful" way to limit who visits the neighborhood.
Nick Schweitzer February 25, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Random Blog Commenter is correct on that... the same thing happened when the O'Reilly Auto Parts was argued. People complaining about the "wrong type" of element coming in closer like with the Advanced Auto Parts, and *gasp* maybe working on their car in the parking lot.
Anita Hero February 25, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Random and Nick- Holy crap! How insulting! This is about progressive people who want to preserve the unique personalities of their community. I am neither affluent, nor afraid of people of color. I wish we had more diversity in our neighborhoods. I MIND Panera's and Starbucks, actually. I would prefer local shopkeepers. People didn't want another garish auto parts store because we already have one. One is ugly enough. We were hoping for something more interesting and new.
Anita Hero February 25, 2013 at 08:27 PM
I can see your point, but only to a degree. Once an ugly-ass chain comes in, we will be doomed to live with them forever and ever. It affects an area for ever and ever. Short term decisions based on knee-jerk fears is what ruins communities. There is a reason people like Tosa so much. Unique local shops and restaurants. Trees. Parks (which are disappearing). Good schools. Prohibiting a chain and putting in a local shop does MUCH MUCH more for our economy in real dollars. Check into it. Buy local.
Random Blog Commenter February 25, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Ms. Hero, Read what I said again. I said nothing about affluent progressives being afraid of anyone, especially those of color. I specifically said that their dislike of the non-affluent is without regard to race, creed or color. It is equal for all. I did fail to define affluent, however, which is my fault. The definition is that if one owns a house in eastern Wauwatosa, one is affluent. That person may not be rich, but they can afford a house that is way cheaper a few blocks away in Milwaukee. If it is not a matter of economic status, then it is certainly one of people being dismissive of certain lifestyle and personal tastes -- a point that Mr. Schweitzer eluded to in his remarks.
Random Blog Commenter February 25, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Ms. Hero, I replied to your "Holy Crap" remark before your "I see your point..." posted. I do enjoy the local businesses that have popped up on North Avenue in recent years. I also enjoy the McDonalds, Subway, O'Reilly's and Speedway. They all have their place and work with each other. I will support any solid business venture that wishes to open on North Avenue and welcome anyone to North Ave who wishes to spend their money there. I would prefer a franchisee of a chain who lived in Wauwatosa over someone in a local restaurant group who lives elsewhere in the metro area owning a restaurant on North Ave. This ordinance would prevent that.


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