East Side Foods – Your Rock And Roll Grocery Store – Prologue

When I was going to school at UW Milwaukee back in the mid 80’s, my work-study job in the library on the UW campus (my first job ever) was over and I was suddenly in need of another one. Badly. I had no car so I beat feet up and down the streets surrounding the campus filling out applications at every place that would let me. I made my way all the way down to N. Oakland Avenue. There was a little mom and pop grocery store on the corner of Oakland and Locust, what I figured was just about the far range of my reasonable walking distance. I stepped inside and asked if they were taking applications. To my surprise, they led me in to see the owner’s son who talked to me, explained the job, had me fill out an application and asked if I could start that weekend, third shift. A typical instance of right place at the right time.

I started that weekend, worked third shift for a year, became “third shift manager” and eventually got a plumb spot on second shift just before the store closed.


Yeah, the store closed after about a year and a half of me working there, not my fault.

My experiences working there were really the impetus for me starting to write this blog. I met some crazy people and there was a rich vein of music woven throughout my history there believe it or not. It was not always fun, but the memories I keep from there are great ones. I learned a lot about life there, good and bad. It was a place that gave me what I needed and I left with a lot of experiences that I will always cherish.

Prior to writing this I have searched and searched for any photo, or any internet remnant of the history of East Side Foods and today I got lucky. I remembered the name of the street it was on and added it to my search. Oakland Avenue. Or as we used to call it as we were sweeping the parking lot and bus stop area just outside the front door, “Oakland Avenue, the ashtray of Milwaukee”.

When East Side Foods closed, it became a Payless Shoes. Sad.

These days it is a Five Guys burger place. When I took Max to start UW Milwaukee I stopped there and took pictures of the building. That’s how deeply my time there impacted me. I was nostalgic for the building. The Cold Stone side was the front produce area and the registers were on the left, just inside the doors of the Five Guys side. This shot is from Google.

Five Guys Front

My shots of the side and parking lot:


The area looks a lot more elegant now, nice new asphalt on the parking lot. Lamp posts. Trash can. We used to have one outside the store and it was incredible not only what people stuffed in there, but how much accumulated. We emptied it every day! Were people saving their garbage for our trash?


Every so often we would be sent out to sweep and clean this parking lot. It seemed a lot bigger then.

The building was long and narrow with a loading dock around the corner in back. Usually stacked with a hundred metal milk crates. The dumpster was back there too. There was a pretty high-end bread company that stocked a small rack with Italian bread and Rye and all kinds of good bread, it had to pulled every third day and we helped him sort what needed to come out and put it in a plastic bin NEXT to the dumpster. He would fill the rack, inspect the “to be tossed bread” and leave a few for us in there. I ate a lot of toaster grilled cheese on high-end bread back in those days. Perks.

The store eventually was pushed out by a Sentry store that was right across the street.

I found 2 articles in the Milwaukee Sentinel archives!



They describe the store and the war with Sentry and the eventual closing.

There were some pictures too. Wow. Kind of blew me away. First of the outside.

East Side Foods

You can see the bus stop was more prominent back then. The simple sign is really all you can see in this shot (note Sentry right across the street), but that was pretty indicative of the inside. Simple and plain.

Inside there a produce area, about 8 stock aisles, freezer aisle in the middle and going right at the end of the produce section you can see in this shot was the deli/deep-fried food factory. It got a lot of night time and bar time action.

East Side Foods Aisle

The registers, the push button kind which were not quite as bad as this, but you get the idea of what we were dealing with and actually got quite proficient at.

Register Buttons

Click for dollars, click for cents, bam, hit the big enter button, shing shing, then do the next item, then hit the big total button, which made the register sound like a Vegas slot machine and the drawer popped open so hard that the change bounce in the trays and made a hell of a racket. Make the change, slam the drawer… thank you come again! Next!

This place is now a part of my soul. I experienced my first real hangover there, made some very very interesting friends (Paul Beck worked there for a time, Jimbo, Tripp, Abdula, Rory, and Jimmy, Pete The Magician), got someone fired, shouted down some crazies, tormented drunks, and made enough money to survive in my room after I got kicked out of school.

It was a life changing experience.

There will be more about East Side Foods coming, but I thought a bit of pre-history would be in order.

Stay tuned for more.

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