Saying Farewell to Green Bay’s Caffé Espresso

jamie-and-Rachel---Cafe-Espresso

If you were hoping to get some Caffé Espresso CCQ, one of the best gyros in town or any of their other drinks and dishes – you’re out of luck and out of time.

For many of us who loved the place, it’s hard to believe. Caffé Espresso in Downtown Green Bay has closed for good, and a completely different restaurant will be moving in soon.

But loyal customers and employees who’ve worked at the little place on Washington Street gave it a heartfelt goodbye on its last day.

For many of us, Caffé Espresso wasn’t just another restaurant with fantastic food and a good cup of coffee. It was a place that was well-known in Green Bay, yet it was a place that managed to feel very un-Green Bay at the same time.

It has been around for more than 30 years, which is why so many people are dealing with nostalgic emotions about it coming to an end.

brenda and owner

Brenda Staudenmaier pictured right

When Brenda Staudenmaier, who served at Caffé Espresso for at least three years, announced on her Facebook page that it would be closing, there was an uproar of unhappy comments.

People said things like,

“Seriously, how can that place close? All the memories of coffee and cigarettes as a teen, and Josh and I used to go there all the time when we first started dating. It hurts my heart.”

“Espresso has been one of the first cool places in Green Bay! So sad.”

“Not cool that is my favorite place in Green Bay!”

“Wow… the end of an era. That place outlasted them all.”

Or simply, “wtf.”

A long-time Caffé Espresso server said, “Started as hostess, became a waitress, bartender, then manager. Big part of my life at that place! Love all the people I’ve worked there with and customers/friends I’ve met. Place is like family.”

If you’ve been a fan of Caffé Espresso, there’s a good chance you remember the sweet owner Jaime Wilson, (pictured above) who sold the place to young restauranteur Rachel O’Leary in 2012.

O’Leary kept much of the same favorite menu items and many members of the staff stayed. But even with the same food and familiar faces, there still seemed to be something missing without Jaime Wilson stopping by your table to greet you.

Jaime was such a loveable guy, and you could tell he truly cared about the customers. Caffé Espresso was his life! It was his baby. Some think if it weren’t for him having some health challenges, he’d probably still be there.

Brenda said there were many people Jaime hired who have worked there for more than a decade. She also said some employees were upset about Rachel O’Leary’s decision to sell the place.

My husband Kasey and I can relate. We’ve been going there since we were in high school. It was where we had dinner on the night he proposed. His favorite dish in all of Green Bay was made in that kitchen.

But now, it looks like he’s saying “so long” to the Sicilian steak dinner (and the sandwich) for good.

Goodbye best Gyro and CCQ ever. Goodbye delicious Greek Salad. Goodbye Jalapeno Chicken!

gyro

The Last Few Years In Business

It was a little less than three years ago when Jaime sold his restaurant to O’ Leary, who was just 24 years old at the time. This was the first restaurant O’Leary ran and Brenda Staudenmaier thinks perhaps her age may have made things more challenging.

“She had too high of hopes and was disappointed at the amount of work.” Staudenmaier told WhooNEW. ” She is only 27 and had it less than three years. That is too young for someone to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives.”

O’Leary has stated publicly and employees agree, that business wasn’t declining at Caffé Espresso.

Closing weekend was no exception. People were willing to wait a couple of hours for a last chance to sink their teeth into their favorite Caffé Espresso meal!

Brenda said they filled right up with reservations and were even running out of food.

Former Caffe Espresso employee, Jason Van Matre, drove up from Oshkosh for the restaurant’s last day. He started going there as a teenager and remembers it as “the only culture escape the city knew, and it sill seems to hold up today.”

“I could say a lot of things for many hours about Caffé. I worked there off and on for over 11 years in both the front and the back of the house,” says Van Matre. He jokes about past employees referring to the place as “Caffé Depresso”, but adds that none of those people would be who they are today without the experiences they had working with Jaime and each other.

Van Matre says the restaurant was supposed to close between 2 and 4 pm on its last day. However, the former employees wouldn’t leave, wanting to soak up every last moment.

jamie and staff

Long-time owner Jaime Wilson hanging with his old staff

Jaime came in to bid farewell to his old staff and customers. “He cried a lot every night he was in…” Brenda said.

For Jaime, this is a huge chapter of his life coming to a close. I even get choked up thinking about what this all must mean to him.

Jaime should feel really good about creating a place that has made a lasting impression on so many people. It will always be remembered.

A New & Exciting Place to Look Forward To

Although we have to say goodbye to a part of Green Bay that many of us will seriously miss, there are some exciting things in the works.

Owners of S.A.L.T., in De Pere as well as the owners of Vintage Liquid Emporium, in Green Bay, gave Rachel a deal that Brenda told us the young owner couldn’t refuse. The two establishments are now working together to give Green Bay a brand new dining experience.

The new owners plan to gut the place, renovate it and give it a new name. A process that will likely take between six to eight weeks.

Brenda says the food will be California taco surf style of some sort. Although Brenda is pretty sad about losing Caffé Espresso, she is definitely looking on the bright side of what will come next.

“S.A.L.T. in De Pere is awesome!” she said. “I have faith they will do some amazing things with the new space.”

Being a big proponent of health and nutrition, Brenda is excited that the food will likely be high quality, local and organic.

Farewell Caffé Espresso

Goodbye Caffé Espresso. You were a fixture of Green Bay’s downtown, a local icon. You will be missed.

Thank you for all the good food and memories. I’m pretty sure there will never be another gyro that will live up to your deliciousness – among other things.

So that’s that. It’s onward from here. Bring on the California taco surf!

Do you have a story about Caffé Espresso? What did it mean to you?

Leave a comment if you have a memory you want to share, or a Caffé Espresso dish you will miss.

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Comments

  1. Gary Werner says:

    Oh No! That place opened the year or month practically that I moved away from Green Bay! I remember thinking – sheesh – Green Bay finally gets good gyros just as I’m leaving. I’ve been looking for gyros that good ever since!

  2. Wade Michael says:

    what an absolute shame – Cafe Espresso was a place that fueled my teenage years with coffee and friends, and became a fixture in my adult life whenever I found myself back in Wisconsin over the years. It was a blissful escape from the typical rowdy bar scene that has flooded Washington Street and the city. Sad to see this fixture of downtown disappear, but at least it was given a proper farewell. Thank you Cafe Espresso, thank you Jamie for putting your heart and soul into this place, thank you Rachel for continuing the tradition for as long as you could. You’ve all left an impression on me that will be hard matched.

  3. Wade Michael- thank you for your comments. I’m Rachel’s mom and the amount of hatred, vile language and nastiness that have been directed at her over the past few days has been painful. She bought a business that was ready to close and had no one else interested in buying, ran it for 3 years and then sold it. The new owners decided to close for a few weeks and change it. Why is she being labeled as such a horrible person?
    Against the advice of her attorney she told her staff in advance so they would not be blindsided. They received a final paycheck and she let them take any food inventory that was left. She doesn’t deserve the amount of crap being thrown at her face and behind her back. Rachel walked away with a lot of experience and a few dollars in her pocket and that’s a great success. We also hate to see Caffe Espresso go away but we are excited to see the new changes when it reopens. Thanks to all who supported her; your kindness is appreciated.

  4. Sure wish they would come back……for me the Caffé Espresso wasn’t just another restaurant with gyros and other fantastic food items on their food menu……they had the most amazing cup of coffee. Please COME BACK!!

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