revitalize the neighborhood, the idea for
an urban cheese factory was born.
In 2012, Clock Shadow opened in the
bottom level of the newly constructed
Fix Building, which transformed the
abandoned piece of wasteland into a
gathering space for the community. The
$7 million dollar, four-story building sits
just a few blocks from the Allen Bradley
Rockwell clock tower, the biggest four-sided clock in the western hemisphere
that the creamery is named after.
The Fix Building, which Wills calls one
of the “greenest in the city” boasts a long
list of sustainable attributes.
About half of the brick structure was
made from materials recycled from
other buildings, such as saved bricks,
metal frames and barrels. Geothermal
wells are used to provide all of the
building’s heating and cooling. Rainwater
is collected for the building’s plumbing.
And the rooftop is home to a community
garden and beehive, as well as a space
that’s used for concerts and farmers’
markets in the summer.
The factory also has a net-zero carbon
footprint — meaning that it offsets any
carbon dioxide it emits by generating
renewable energy. Specifically, Clock
Shadow ships whey byproduct from its
operations to a nearby casino that uses
food waste from around Milwaukee to
As for the neighborhood, Wills says
that the transformation spurred by the
Fix Building, along with many other local
businesses and community activists, has
“Five years later, it’s almost
unrecognizable. The neighborhood is now a
magnet for development,” he says. “There
are four breweries, two distilleries, a
chocolate shop and an ice cream company
within six blocks of where we’re at.”
The Economics of Scale
One of Clock Shadow’s initial goals was
simple: provide Milwaukee residents with
Previously, Wills’ other company, Cedar
Grove, sold its cheese in Milwaukee,
along with many others across the state.
But Cedar Grove’s location in Plain, Wis.
is about two hours from the city — a
distance that can keep the cheese from
hitting the streets at its peak freshness.
Now, Clock Shadow offers about six
different cheese varieties, including
squeaky cheese curds, cheddar and
queso, fresh from the factory. Wills
says that focus on freshness serves
as a competitive advantage and helps
compensate for higher production costs.
Clock Shadow’s front-end retail space
also sells an array of accoutrements,
like drinks, jams and crackers, to help
customers put together a tasty cheese-centered spread. It also has a lunch cafe
with takeout eats like grilled cheese.
The more challenging part to the
operation has been about making the
economics of the factory work on a small
scale. Specifically Wills says that recent
regulatory changes, such as the Food
and Drug Administration’s Food Safety
Modernization Act (FSMA), have put an
additional strain on finances.
Under FSMA, Wills says the company
has had to develop new risk-based safety
procedures and purchase a computerized
system to track all of the product moving
through the factory so that in the event
of a recall, consumers and buyers can be
more easily notified.
Many major retailers have also begun
requiring more audits of manufacturing
facilities for safety. Previously, audits from
state and federal agencies were sufficient
for these major buyers — and those
audits were paid for by the government.
Now, Wills says companies have to pay for
third-party audits that can cost as much
“It’s good. It’s going to protect
consumers, there’s no question,” Wills
explains. But, Wills says when you’re a
smaller manufacturer, it’s more difficult to
absorb the new costs.
“If I have to pay $60,000 for a third-
party audit and environmental testing,
[at a small factory] it might be about 10
percent of the costs,” Wills explains. “[At
a mid-sized company like Cedar Grove],
food safety would be more like 1 or 2
percent of the company’s costs.”
Small-scale manufacturing can also be
“At Cedar Grove, if I make a batch of
2,200 pounds of cheese, I have about
the same amount of labor as what I do at
Clock Shadow for 600 pounds of cheese.
So my labor costs per pound are about
five times as high,” Wills says.
There are advantages, however, to
dealing with issues like food safety
compliance that Wills says helps the