What started out as The Spot, an afterschool space for students, quickly turned in Milwaukee’s United Community Center, a multigenerational agency that carries a magnitude of programs.
JoAnna Bautch, media relations and events coordinator at UCC, says the center is a focal point for the community.
“It’s not uncommon to see a family come and drop their child at the childcare center or at one of the schools and then head over the senior center and drop off their parent or in-laws, and then come here to work,” said Bautch.
There’s a hidden gem at the center. Located at the lowest level, you’re greeted to a restaurant called Café el Sol. The restaurant started off in 1983 as a program to help unemployed youth on food preparation and service. Now it’s a gathering scene for everyone.
“Café el Sol is a Mexican and Purto Rician restaurant,” said Bautch. “So all of our cooking staff are Mexican and Purto Rician, who else can provide those kinds of options than those who make those stuff on a regular basis. Café el Sol, not only a restaurant that’s completely open to the public but also really the hub of where our programs receive food.”
Let’s consider the impact Café el Sol has. The human services department at UCC has roughly 900 clients, some of those individuals are are part of the residential treatment center and the cafe provides meals throughout the day.
“It’s nice because they get to experience food from a real restaurant,” said Bautch. “At least we are able to provide them a hot meal every time they sit down at the table.”
Beyond just serving the center, Café el Sol is a restaurant that’s opened to the public. Miguel Sanchez, manager at the cafe, says Fridays are a special day for two reasons.
“One of the things that we are really famous for is our fish fry,” said Sanchez. “If you never had it, I highly recommend it and also with your fish fry you get the live entertainment on Fridays. We hire bands that happen to be Peruvian, Cuban, Purto Rician. It’s a little bit of everything, I would say and it’s really nice.”
Food sometimes acts as the heart and soul for bringing people together. I think about growing up and learning about my own heritage while helping my grandmother make dinner or sharing special moments over a meal with loved ones. Café el Sol brilliantly highlights both Mexican and Purto Rician cuisines, celebrates the richness of both countries and contributes value to the center and the public.