Shortly after the Aug. 13, 2016, Sherman Park Uprising, JoAnne Sabir, who owns The Juice Kitchen with her husband, Maanaan, received a suggestion to expand into the Sherman Park neighborhood, along with the request to, “be the Phoenix that rises from the ashes.”
That quote, which concluded an Aug. 20, 2016, New York Times article featuring the Sabirs, would eventually lead her, along with developer Juli Kaufmann, to spearhead Sherman Phoenix, an entrepreneurial hub for small businesses-of-color offering an array of healthy foods, wellness services and cultural activities.
Sabir said she had traveled the nation, visiting food hubs and thinking about how those incubator spaces reflected the neighborhoods in which they rested. “My husband, who lived in the Sherman Park neighborhood for most of his life, built deep relationships with so many entrepreneurs that we just began to ask people to journey with us,” she said. “We realized there was a need and a desire from entrepreneurs to have a shared space.”
Prior to Sherman Phoenix opening, there were few options for fresh, healthy foods in the community. The current food vendors in Sherman Phoenix include Buffalo Boss, featuring hormone-free Buffalo wings; Confectionately Yours bakery; Funky Fresh Spring Rolls; Lush Popcorn; The Next Level Vegans; Purple Door Ice Cream; Sauce & Spice pizzeria; and SHINDIG Coffee.
Trueman McGee, of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, has been selling spring rolls packed with fresh ingredients like buffalo chicken and kale, or sweet potato and black bean. The spring rolls are grilled instead of fried. There are also salads and quinoa bowls. McGee had sold spring rolls at farmers markets and events, and he had a temporary space in the Milwaukee’s Shops of Grand Avenue. “I’m a former resident of the Sherman Park neighborhood, and I thought it would be important to have our business represented in the area. I jumped on board right away,” McGee said.
McGee will still continue to do farmers markets and festivals, which will provide additional opportunity to direct customers to Sherman Phoenix. He said the love and support from customers has been overwhelming. “Sherman Phoenix has definitely been positive for our business,” he said.
Anah Lesure, chef and owner of The Next Level Vegans MKE, started in 2012 with a food truck. She was a customer at The Juice Kitchen and started making vegan food for the Sabirs to offer along with juices and smoothies. The Next Level Vegan MKE’s specialties include scratch-made vegan versions of classic comfort foods like lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, macaroni and cheese and gyros. Lesure is implementing a grab-and-go system to serve the lunch crowd, and she now has a larger commercial kitchen space to prepare for events and meet the growing demand for vegan food in Milwaukee.
Colectivo’s Paul Miller supported and mentored the Sabirs in opening SHINDIG Coffee, an extension of The Juice Kitchen. In addition to coffee and juices, SHINDIG will offer wraps, salads and soups, including a veggie dumpling soup that is Sabir’s father’s recipe.
In addition to food vendors, Sherman Phoenix has salons, a barbershop, a yoga studio, an apothecary, artist studios, a consignment boutique, lifestyle and business consultants, counselors, massage and martial arts. Sabir said there’s been heavy interest from people requesting to rent space at Sherman Phoenix for private events. Public events such as Summer Phoenix Fest are in the works.
Could Sherman Phoenix be a model for other communities? “I hope so,” Sabir said. “We know that it works, and we know it’s a sustainable model and plays a significant part to serve the needs of the community, so we hope it’s replicated again and again.”
For more information, visit shermanphoenix.com.