There is a haunting photo on the exposed brick wall inside the newly renovated Garver Feed Mill in Madison, Wisconsin, that tells a story within a story within a story. It’s grainy, as such artifacts can be, and on first glance, it depicts two women in the kind of gritty, industrial setting you might imagine when you think “early 20th century sugar beet factory.”
The Wisconsin Historical Society dates this image from 1924, the same year the U.S. Sugar Company filed for bankruptcy and five years before James R. Garver would purchase the 200,000-foot facility with Romanesque arches and convert it to a feed mill and granary.
Bryant Moroder, General Manager and part of the Baum Revision team (a Chicagobased developer) that began renovating the iconic East Side Madison building into a multifaceted destination for food, wellness, and culture in 2017, says the identity of those women was one of the great mysteries of the Garver story.
“They represent a time in Madison history where this was the largest factory in the state and was producing about 10 million pounds of sugar a year,” explains Moroder on a recent history tour of the spectacularly renovated space. “And while it can’t be 100 percent confirmed, we did receive a clue about who these women might have been from one of the descendants of Hans Jacob Struck, who built the original sugar beet processing facility in 1906.”
The man who sent the note to Moroder and the Baum Revision crew believes the ladies are none other than his grandmother, Minnie Struck Bremer, and her sister Ella Struck Thompson. Their father was Hans, and according to family history, “the girls both spent a lot of time with their father at his businesses” in the early 1900s and possibly worked for him.
Another mystery that had Moroder and the renovation team perplexed was what happened to all the bricks that were removed when Garver essentially “knocked two-and-a-half stories” (including the turret) off of the castle-esque structure to convert it to one of the most state-of-the-art feed mills in the country.
“It took some digging, but we figured it out,” he says. “Notice how low the windows are to the floor? Look down. We’re standing on those bricks.”
The team was able to determine that Garver raised the grade six to eight feet by burying the bricks, possibly to create indoor floor height to accommodate loading and unloading of train cars which pulled on to the site. Garver Feed Mill continued production for 66 more years before closing in 1997. The City of Madison purchased the property, and it essentially sat vacant for the next 18 years—at times becoming a canvas for graffiti artists or a primitive studio space for local artisans. But mostly it was a forgotten remnant of history, standing stark and empty in striking contrast to the adjacent Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
The Great Garver Revival
Flash forward to 2021 and what you will find within these historical brick walls when you make a weekend road trip to Madison is the culmination of a vision that brings its storied past boldly into the future.
“The beauty of this development is the connection to the past,” says Moroder, explaining that City of Madison reached out to Baum Revision in 2015 to see if the firm would be interested in doing what it’s done with similar buildings in other parts of the country—preserving the old mill while simultaneously creating a hub for wellness, culinary creations, and local culture. “It spoke to us and the tenants we have brought together are, each in their own way, the modern version of the innovation and forward-thinking ideas that were here more than 100 years ago.”
At the heart of the project, which was unveiled in 2019, was a desire to pay homage to the building’s food production history by bringing in local culinary artisans such as Sitka Salmon Shares, Ian’s Pizza, Calliope Ice Cream, Surya Café, NessAlla Kombucha, and Ledger Coffee Roasters.
Alla Tsypin, co-founder of NessAlla Kombucha, says she and her partner were one of the first tenants to sign on at the newly reimagined Garver Feed Mill—opening the craft kombucha brewery there a year before it opened to the public.
“The vibe here is very entrepreneurial,” says Tsypin, explaining that the company was recently sold and will continue expanding its production of kombucha products for the Midwest (including the North Shore) from the Garver facility. “All of the businesses at Garver have formed a community that’s focused on wellness and supporting local artisans.”
Beyond building a foodie network, Moroder says bringing in such luxury wellness providers as Perennial Yoga and Shilpa Sankaran’s KOSA Ayurvedic Spa was also key to the overall strategy of creating a multifaceted destination that was as appealing to tourists as it was locals.
“What Shilpa is doing with the spa and the organic food they offer in the KOSA Kitchen is on brand with the Garver vision,” he adds. “But we also saw the potential for events so that led to bringing in businesses such as Briar Loft floral design and Twig & Olive Photography.”
Whether it’s a wedding, an art show, or a session of live jazz and dancing on a Saturday night, the vast loft-like center of the Garver Feed Mill is always hopping. With a space that can be reconfigured in myriad ways, it provides a built-in nightlife with the Garver Lounge—known for its creative craft cocktails (including some that feature NessAlla Kombucha) and a delicious brunch menu the next day.
Best of the Midwest
“The common denominator here is that everything is hand-crafted or one-of-a-kind quality,” says Moroder. “We’ve created a platform that elevates Madison’s profile as a Midwestern hub of art, food, music, and wellness attractions.”
Now that summer is upon us and pandemic restrictions are easing, another popular feature at Garver is the patio. Visitors can enjoy al fresco jazz by BlueStem on Fridays or Outdoor Art Shows hosted by Garver Canvas, a contemporary art gallery that can also be converted into an event space, through the weekend. If you visit Garver between January and mid-April, you can check out the Dane County Farmers Market, the largest producer only farmers market in the nation.
“Those coming up from Chicago have the opportunity to taste the best of Madison all under one roof. There truly is something for everyone here,” explains Moroder. “You can do a spa retreat with aromatherapy, meditation, and yoga or you can take a mixology class and then listen to live music. And our proximity to Olbrich Botanical Gardens and the bike trails, which can explore with Madison BCycle, make it a fitness destination as well.”
He says private and public events in Garver’s indoor and outdoor event spaces throughout the year bring people from throughout the Midwest to discover the project and its vibrant East Side location— which some consider to be “the Soul of Madison.”
While opening just months before a global pandemic brought the world to a halt was not without its challenges, Moroder and the Baum Revision team could not be more pleased with the response the project has received in the Madison community.
The Garver Feed Mill project received seven awards in 2020, including the 2020 Historic Restoration Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the 2020 Historic Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse from the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation.
A piece of Madison history has not only been saved; it’s been revived and reinvented for a new generation.
“It’s been a journey,” Moroder adds. “But we’re very proud of what we have accomplished. We expect to be very busy this summer with visitors from near and far.”
Garver Feed Mill is located at 3241 Garver Green on Madison’s east side. For more information, including summer “experience” packages and more, visit garverfeedmill.com.
GO-TO GUIDE: THE GARVER EXPERIENCE
One of the things that makes Garver Feed Mill the ultimate weekend destination is that your itinerary of activities can be curated on an individual basis, according to taste and interest. Not only can you “choose your own Garver adventure,” but within each “experience” is the opportunity to further customize.
With three “experience” packages being offered for the summer and fall (with a range of discounts), we put together this guide to planning your Garver Feed Mill visit based on a recent trip to sample all that this new jewel of the Midwest has to offer.
Sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, each package includes a complimentary Day Pass from Madison BCycle (per person) and a $25 off coupon code from Sitka Salmon Shares (purveyors of the most delicious, sustainable wild Alaskan seafood, delivered straight to your door), which has its headquarters at Garver.
Packages may also be paired with a one-night stay at another renovated landmark— the chic Hotel Indigo, located in the old Mautz Paint Company building. Situated just a few blocks away from the downtown Capital Square, this new luxury hotel features murals throughout that showcase the original architecture and the building’s historical provenance. A swanky hotel bar and restaurant only accentuates the ambiance (especially when the Forward Madison FC soccer team is playing across the street, as this is their designated “local”).
While you can certainly experience all that Garver has to offer a la carte, we recommend that you opt for one of the following:
Relax and Recharge:
Wellness Experience Having spent a few magical hours at the decadent KOSA ayurvedic spa, this one is hard to resist. Shilpa Sankaran and her talented team have created a retreat and spa that goes beyond the usual treatment menu and straight to the heart of ayurvedic principles. And the KOSA Kitchen food, created with seasonal spices and organic ingredients that are in balance with nature, is to die for.
Begin your Wellness Experience at KOSA with either a 75-minute warm oil Abhyanga massage (highly recommended) or an organic Inner Glow Facial. Each of these three-hour experiences include a one-hour personal retreat in the sanctuary, sauna, and steam room with a spa gift.
Next on your wellness journey is the opportunity to find your balance with a yoga class at Perennial Yoga—a thriving, serenity-filled yoga and meditation studio. Each yoga class provides access to heart-centered teachers, transformative spaces, and time-tested practices so you can connect with yourself. Classes range from one hour to 90 minutes.
This package can be customized further with either a behind-the-scenes tour at the NessAlla Kombucha Brewery (which includes a tasting of some deliciously unique, limited-run flavors) or a back-of-the-house introduction to Ian’s Pizza and Calliope Ice Cream’s often boozy creations (which includes seeing where the dough is made, sampling delicious pizza, and tasting the most unusual ice cream flavors ever).
The “Wellness Experience” is priced from $273 + $204.84 for a one-night hotel stay; save $52 August through September.
Sip and Taste: Foodie Experience
While wellness offerings at Garver Food Mill are irresistible (especially given the year we’ve all just had), so are the culinary treasures you will discover there. The “Foodie Experience” is a flavor-packed sampling of the best of the Garver and Madison foodie scene.
Your menu of activities includes a threeand- a-half-hour Madison Eats Bike N’Bites Food Tour—a six-mile, round-trip BCycle ride through the Willy Street, Atwood, and Olbrich neighborhoods. Food is either taken to go (we ate one of our tastings in the park) or enjoyed outside. The tour includes seven food tastings and two drink samples, including a full-size beer at Garver.
The package also includes a brunch reservation at Garver Lounge, with the option to sit inside or outside on the patio. Complimentary pastries are included but brunch is paid for separately at the end of the meal.
Similar to the “Wellness Package,” you can also opt for either a behind-the-scenes tour at the NessAlla Kombucha Brewery or a back-of-the-house introduction to Ian’s Pizza and Calliope Ice Cream. Both are fun and tasty. Kombucha enthusiasts might enjoy seeing exactly how this nutritious concoction is brewed and bottled. If you already know about Ian’s Pizza (a Wisconsin institution that’s gone national with locations in Denver and Seattle) then seeing how the dough is made (and sampling) will be a treat, along with a chance to learn more about how Staci Fritz began making crafting one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors (Brandy Old Fashioned and Mexican Hot Chocolate are just two of her must-haves).
To top it all off, this package includes a $15 gift card to Ian’s Pizza (the Mac n’Cheese slice is just one of many popular favorites).
The “Foodie Experience” is priced from $273 + $204.84 for a one-night hotel stay; save $52 August through September.
Sights and Sounds: Art & Culture Experience
The third pillar of the Garver Feed Mill project is one that brings together the best of the past and the present with live music, contemporary art, and a celebration of the building’s history.
Immerse yourself with the “Art & Culture Experience” package, which includes the Madison Eats Bike N’Bites Food Tour as well as a brunch reservation at Garver Lounge and the $15 gift card for Ian’s Pizza. It’s the perfect combo for a foodie who also loves nightlife and local culture.
Also Included in the “Art & Culture Experience” is the chance to listen to live music from a wide range of genres in the atrium or outdoor patio. You will get one ticket per person for live jazz on the patio (presented by BlueStem Jazz on Friday nights at 7pm) or live bluegrass on the patio during Sunday brunch.
This “experience” also features a one-hour guided tour of Garver Feed Mill history. From sugar beet factory to modern day food hub, learn how the Garver Feed Mill has played an essential role in Wisconsin’s economy. Go behind the scenes at this this iconic landmark or an up-close look at distinctive architectural features and learn how historic materials were repurposed.
The “Art & Culture Experience” is priced from $273 + $204.84 for a one-night hotel stay; save $52 August through September.
Book any of these packages directly at garverfeedmill.com/experience.