REEDSBURG – The Kettle & Cup has been an island in this city’s downtown since opening in 2011.
This is where professional artists and those from the local high school and middle school can show off their work, where open mic nights can draw area poets and musicians and the live music is as much a staple as the coffee from Madison’s Steep & Brew and Red Letter Roasters in nearby Baraboo.
When Fermentation Fest was held last fall, the 1,400-square-foot shop was a primary pit stop and even hosted a seminar on how to raise organic peaches.
But unlike the more than 100-year-old buildings on either side of the coffee shop that have been elegantly restored, the 1940s building that is home to the Kettle & Cup looks oddly out of place in this historic downtown.
The facade may match the Kettle & Cup’s vibe, but is drawing mixed reviews in this Sauk County city of just over 10,000 people.
“I think some people like it and some people don’t,” said Monica Liegel, chair of the city’s historic preservation commission and a Reedsburg resident since the 1950s. “It is different, but we don’t have much control over what people do with their buildings. It’s more like a mural.”
The city’s downtown is dotted with public art. Just down the street, a mural depicting the city’s brewing history adorns the side of the Corner Pub & Brewery. Across the street, a relief mural on the front of Community First Bank shows white settlers in an oxen-pulled covered wagon meeting Native Americans.
Justin Woods’ mural, however, is out of the box.
It took the Baraboo artist six weeks working nights and weekends to complete the Kettle & Cup’s facade. Woods, 37, who works full-time at Teel Plastics in Baraboo, didn’t use scaffolding, just an extension ladder, brushes, rollers, sponges and anything else that could help add to what some describe as “eastern India meeting a paisley pattern.”
There are musical notes, handprints from Wood’s young daughter, swirls, tribal designs, stars and what appears to be a Pac-Man eating a white dot.
“I like pushing the limits,” said Woods, a Rockford, Ill., native who finished his work in October. “It does stand out, but I don’t think it’s out of place. I would hate for people not to notice it, regardless of what they think. It adds variety.”
The Kettle & Cup is the creation of Laurie and Alex Porter.
The couple wanted to create a gathering place that welcomed all ages. Inspired by Madison coffee houses Mother Fool’s on Williamson Street and Michelangelo’s on State Street, Kettle & Cup has added a big-city feel to Reedsburg’s downtown.
“We’ve raised a few conversations,” said Laurie Porter. “We’re just trying to make our little space a better place.”
Her husband, Alex, 42, grew up in the crime-riddled Humboldt Park and Logan Square areas of Chicago. When he was 16, his family left Chicago and moved to Reedsburg to get away from the dangers and headaches of the big city. His stepfather worked for the Reedsburg School District and his mother at the hospital.
Alex remembers sneaking into the bowling alley, then known as Viking Lanes, to listen to rock bands when he was 16 years old. After spending 10 years selling cellphones and other wireless products, he and Laurie, whom he met at work, decided to open the coffee shop and work for themselves. Alex, a guitar player, said music and local art were requisites for the shop’s business plan.
“I want (young people) to see music and be inspired, not to be around drunk people and be hassled,” Alex Porter said. “We like to entertain. We like to be around people. This is the second most comfortable place for us other than our house.”
The more than 60-year-old building, owned by Gatlin Fenwick, was home to a men’s clothing store, The Toggery, for most of its life, and for 10 years after was a dance studio.
“It’s fulfilling on a different level,” Porter said of his business when compared to other jobs he’s held. “Justin’s gift is something that is here year-round.”
Brian Duvalle, the city’s planner since 2007, said Woods’ painting doesn’t violate any city ordinances and he doubts any would be created that would retroactively force its removal. In addition, the building is not historic, he said.
The painting stands in stark contrast to the restored buildings that house other big-city type businesses next door.
Kay and Larry Schroeder have spent about $200,000 to redo their building, constructed in 1909 as a bank.
In 2008, they removed the aluminum facade to expose the original exterior, added new windows and turned the first floor into the Blue Heron, a home décor store worthy of any metropolitan area. On the second floor, in an old ballroom, Larry Schroeder has a wood shop where he makes furniture.
He calls the Porters good friends and when we visited last week, Laurie Porter had just delivered lunch from her shop.
“They took a risk with it,” Schroeder said of the Kettle & Cup’s facade. “It just doesn’t fit the area.”
On the other side of the coffee shop is Brides n’ Belles, an expansive bridal boutique housed in the Behn Block buildings constructed from 1894 to 1906. The front of the buildings were once covered in yellow plywood but have been restored to resemble their past.
Chelsea Stewart, 24, who was working the front desk at the boutique, said she doesn’t have a problem with the Kettle & Cup’s new look and believes it’s a great addition to the downtown, even if it is counterintuitive to traditional downtown design.
“It’s my go-to place,” said Stewart, who will soon begin studying to become a nurse. “I think it’s modern and brings what’s going on in cities around us to a small town. I love it.”