The Talented Trio Behind the Design

From sliding garage doors in Wauwatosa to an open view of the bakery at Bay View, each Colectivo cafe has unique features that sets it apart. Or maybe you’ve noticed the gargoyles over Prospect’s door, the skeletal structure over the patio at Humboldt, or the repurposed wooden tables in cafes. Since the beginning, Joe and Janice Niedzialkowski and Jay Richardson have been largely responsible for the signature look that sets Colectivo spaces apart.


The story behind the work is 30 years in the making: it all started at the Grand Ave. Mall, when Paul Miller, Colectivo co-founder, met Joe Niedzialkowski, who was designing displays. Paul was floored by Joe’s talent and soon found out that it went beyond retail display to include painting, drawing, sculpting, and even mechanics.

When Alterra was founded, Joe was among the first to collaborate with co-founders Lincoln, Paul, and Ward. The first cafe at Bayshore Mall featured many of Joe's designs, including a free-standing sculpture of a newspaper man complete with bowler hat and bulldog by his side. "His hand is on a big part of the business…initially a lot of the packaging and merchandising and art,” Paul said.

When Joe married Janice, the company was lucky to enlist her talent as well.

“Hers is a world of color and incredibly subtle tones,” Paul said. She sees “the beauty in wildness, the color in time…as things decay they become more interesting."

If you’ve noticed the faded colors, the painstakingly worn-looking furniture, or the rustic light fixtures in our cafes, you’ve see Janice’s talent.


This design team would not be complete without Jay Richardson, who has been working with Joe on the cafes for the past 16 years. His knowledge of carpentry and mechanics is immense - he designed his house and built it himself out of wood he milled.

The trio’s skills run deeper than simply aesthetic - their work underscores the value Colectivo places on sustainability. The rustic feel of the cafes is due in part to their use of recycled materials. Joe in particular works with raw materials, turning them on their edge and juxtaposing them against the new to create an unpredictable vision.

Colectivo’s partnership with the Niedzialkowskis is much more than a business transaction. Watch our Colectivo on Prospect video to hear Joe tell a personal story about the last time he was up on the Prospect scaffolding. With the change of our name and redesign of our cafe signage and features, the relationship has come full circle.

Paul keeps much of Joe’s art in his office, as awed by his talent today as he was 30 years ago. “His card says ‘juggler and display artist’ but that is so understated for the immense talent that he is,” says Paul.

It is thanks to the vision and hard work of Joe, Janice, and Jay that the Colectivo cafes are what they are today. Add the graphic design work of Kevin Callahan, and we at Colectivo feel truly humbled to have so much creative talent in our midsts. We're excited to see what new projects are in store and are grateful to have such a special relationship with these artists.