History

When a decent cup of coffee is hard to come by, interesting things can happen. Or at least they did back in 1993, when Ward Fowler, Lincoln Fowler, and Paul Miller were working nights while keeping their daytime businesses afloat. A situation like that required strong coffee, and not just any coffee. These guys needed something burly enough to keep them well fueled for long nights and hard work. They recognized the need for strong, quality coffee in Milwaukee, and in 1994, opened the doors to the first Alterra café.

We first started roasting on-site at our Bayshore location in a modest ten-pound shop roaster. Local interest grew and we began roasting for cafes besides our own from a fifth floor warehouse space, packing beans and hauling them down four flights to Ward’s seatless Mazda (our delivery truck). Our legs got tired from all those stairs and we soon traded the fifth floor for a basement level space in the Walker’s Point neighborhood. Peering through the windows and following the scent of roasting coffee beans, our new neighbors on Washington Street looked on as we experimented with beans, roast, grind, and brewing equipment. As more customers took notice of how commitment to quality could make such a tasty difference, our business grew. Unfortunately, the basement in Walker’s Point couldn’t expand with us, so despite the advantages (it was cheap), we sought a new home.

Alterra's Prospect CafeIn July of 1997, we moved out of the basement and into a 14,000ft. roastery at 2211 N. Prospect Avenue on Milwaukee’s East Side. With the move, we finally had the opportunity to create a place that truly fit with the original vision of the company. With roasters running in the backdrop of the café, customers can watch the entire coffee-making process - from beans to brew - while sipping the results of relentless attention to strength, consistency, and quality.

In early 2001, our appetites got the best of us and we opened Alterra Baking Company (ABC). We first began ABC as a way to provide freshly baked sweets and pastries to our own retail locations. We couldn’t keep the muffins and scones to ourselves for long, though, and soon began distributing to area grocery stores and restaurants. ABC is constantly trying out new recipes and now offers a growing selection of savory items, such as salads, wraps, sandwiches, and quiche.

We’ve brought strong coffee to other Milwaukee area locations as well with the opening of a store at Mayfair Mall in 1999, followed a year later by a downtown Alterra in the U.S. Bank Center. In 2002, we made our debut on the shores of Lake Michigan through a unique agreement with MMSD. Situated inside the Milwaukee River Flushing Station right on Lincoln Memorial Drive, Alterra at the Lake was the first café to serve the new savory menu items made by ABC.

Alterra's Foundry CafeIn January 2006, we strengthened our commitment to urban environments and investment in the community with the Alterra Foundry. This location is housed in the renovated Kramer International building in the historic Fifth Ward just south of downtown Milwaukee. In November of that same year, we returned to our roots and opened a café at the Bayshore Town Center.

The launching of three new cafes made 2007 an exciting and busy year for us as we expanded to Grafton, Wauwatosa and the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee.  Our Riverwest location is also home to Alterra’s headquarters, bringing Alterra Baking Company, our sales and support offices, and the majority of Alterra’s roasting and wholesale operations under one roof.