June 2, 2023


Moving Forward

Meet a Milwaukee entrepreneur helping put Brew City on the map

MILWAUKEE – — You’ve likely seen the iconic, bright green buses… but did you know Milwaukee’s original city tour is a woman-owned business?

Theresa Nemetz started Milwaukee Food and City Tours about 16 years ago. She was on vacation in New York and took a food tour. After munching through the Big Apple she knew she could start something similar to help people explore her hometown.

“I literally went to Home Depot and I bought a walking wheel so that I could measure the difference between all the different restaurants on Brady Street,” recalled Nemetz. She grew up in the Brady Street area and that made it the perfect place to start building tours.

“My great-grandparents had emigrated here from Sicily and so that’s really the first story that we told on the tours,” she explained. Soon, it expanded to Old World 3rd Street, highlighting historic German locations but also incorporating the new.

“Then they were saying, ‘What’s the next neighborhood? Where else can we go?’ so we developed a bloody mary brunch tour and we showed off the 3rd Ward,” said Nemetz.

That’s how the company has grown — listening to customers and learning what neighborhoods they want to explore. The tours highlight the diversity that makes Milwaukee such a vibrant city.

“I’m actively and consciously looking at diverse business owners,” she continued. “I’m looking for African American-owned businesses, I’m looking for Latina-owned businesses, and making sure to incorporate them into the tours because groups are asking for that.”

Nemetz says what’s fueled her through the years is hearing the stories people share while on the tours and seeing how it sparks conversation between generations.

“I remember one time we went on the Brady Street tour, and I was leading the tour,” she recalled. “A grandma was on the tour with her daughter and granddaughter and all of a sudden the grandma stopped — because we took them to Zaffiro’s Pizza, and she said ‘Wait a second! I was here years ago.’ And she started talking about how in the 1950’s her dad came home and told the family about this new thing called Pizza and declared that they were going to go and have it.”

Nemetz is still a little astonished by how the company has grown from 50 people that first year to upwards of 40,000 people on tour this year.

“I never knew how much hustle I had in me until I was a tour operator in a pandemic and I had to save our tour company,” she added.

Moving quickly to meet changing needs, her company actually grew eight times larger during the pandemic — acquiring tour companies in multiple cities and expanding to offer gift boxes.

Nemetz continues to look to the future and says it could include hologram-led tours and self-driving vehicles that can show off the city and explain its history in any language.

“I want to be a part of it. I want to be that first person that helps to bring that to the Midwest,” she said.

And her advice to other women and young entrepreneurs is — don’t be afraid to ask questions. “Go out there and look to who you admire and pick up the phone and call them. Take them to lunch and find out about their career and ask them for advice.”

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