After more than 62 years under ownership by the same family, another locally owned Milwaukee business closed its doors for the last time on April 1, 2022. The north side of Milwaukee used to be full of ‘neighborhood’ businesses like Schmidt/Kil-Bac Restaurant and Janitorial Supply which for the past 55 years has been located near the intersection of 28th Street on Fond du Lac Avenue.
Neil Feldmann, the president and current owner, recently celebrated his 66th birthday and decided to retire in December. He said he tried unsuccessfully to find a local buyer for the company. The handful of potential out-of-state buyers all wanted Feldmann to stay on for the transition to new ownership, which was not an option Feldmann said he was willing to consider.
The company contributed to the economic development of literally hundreds of individuals: employees, customers, drivers and suppliers. As its name suggests, the company supplied mostly locally owned small restaurants, caterers and churches with kitchen and cleaning implements. It also employed about a half dozen residents from Milwaukee’s north side with full-time jobs.
Davina Byrd, owner of Jacari Sweets, said she has been coming to Schmidt/Kil-Bac since she was a little girl. “My mama owned a day care and she used to bring me here,” Byrd said. “Later we bought a corner store and I started coming here myself.” Vince Jemison the Schmidt/Kil- Bac clerk who rang up her purchases, worked for the company for more than 30 years.
In February 1975, Feldmann’s father died in a car accident. Feldmann had graduated from high school the year before and was just 19-years-old with dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but he decided to try his hand first at the family business.
“Not much has changed in this city in the past 50 years for us,” said Feldmann. “My customers and the neighbors have been very good to us. They have been very loyal.” Feldmann said Schmidt/ Kil-Bac settled at its current location in March 1967, not long before local civil rights activists began protesting racial discrimination in housing for 200 consecutive days from August 1967 to March 1968.
The Schmidt portion of the name was acquired from a previous owner who brought Feldmann’s father into the business as an investor in 1960. Cheryl Keihl, the company’s long-time business manager said the Kil-Bac portion of the name stands for ‘Kill Bacteria’ and was a late addition meant to reassure church customers that the company was more than just a supplier to Milwaukee’s then-legendary neighborhood tavern scene.
In a factually true plot twist worthy of its April Fools’ Day closing, the 32,000-squarefoot warehouse complex has been sold to a local Milwaukee businessman who wishes to remain anonymous at least until he can determine an action plan for his new acquisition.