Calling on the Community

Updated: Aug 12


Photo from Dave Heide


I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Heide, chef, and restauranteur a few weeks back. We were able to talk about masks, BLM, the fate of restaurants in Madison, PPP, and about a million other smaller tangents. The conversation was informative and engaging but most impressive, it was simply fun. It felt like catching up with an old friend, which before COVID would have felt more normal. But since COVID and the shutting down of many restaurants, some temporarily, some permanently, it felt like a special glimmer of hope.

Creating More Than Just Food

Dave Heide is an impressive figure. He’s the owner of Liliana’s, Charlie’s on Main, Little John’s and recently was a key figure in the Nom Nom Nom kits. If you’re not familiar with his work, almost every project has a twist. Liliana’s offered cooking classes pre-COVID, Charlie’s on Main has a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind a bookcase, Little John’s is a non-profit restaurant where patrons pay-what-they-can for meals and the Nom Nom Nom kits partnered local restaurants with farmers to create takehome meals during COVID.

“I don’t like traditional. I think it’s boring and lame!” Heide tells me as I ask him about the reason behind the twists in his projects. But another obvious focus in Heide’s projects is his relationship with the community.


“At this point, it’s much more about the community supporting restaurants than restaurants supporting the community.”


Supporting Local

I press Heide on a trend that seems to be happening in the restaurant world as a whole, but particularly in Madison.

Q: How do you see restaurants supporting the community moving forward?

A: “That’s a great question […] At this point it’s much more about the community supporting restaurants than restaurants supporting the community.”

Q: How has it been being an independent restaurant during COVID, especially as more and more restaurants are

opening up service?

A: “We shouldn’t open up. It’s a money thing, not a humanity thing. And [not opening up] has hurt us badly, financially. Before restaurants reopened we were doing $2,000 in sales on a good night. Now, we’re lucky if we do $500 or $600. […] I can personally think in my head of at least 25 restaurants that are negotiating their leases with their landlords.” 

Q: How can consumers help restaurants right now?

A: “At the beginning of this I had a customer ask me how they could support us and I told them this; write down your 5 favorite restaurants that you want to still be here after COVID. Rotate between them weekly ordering takeout. Don’t buy gift cards because I have to eventually pay that back.”


The only thing clear about the future of independent restaurants is that it’s going to be hard. Large corporations were able to get millions of dollars through PPP and many of them will be able to go to a bank to help keep them afloat. Your favorite neighborhood mom & pop doesn’t have those options. So they are left looking to you for their support.

Supporting local has always been important but it’s crucial these days. Money talks and where you spend it matters. So mask up, go pick up your favorite hometown meal, and remember to tip well.


QUESTIONS?

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Dave Heide


I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Heide, chef, and restauranteur a few weeks back. We were able to talk about masks, BLM, the fate of restaurants in Madison, PPP, and about a million other smaller tangents. The conversation was informative and engaging but most impressive, it was simply fun. It felt like catching up with an old friend, which before COVID would have felt more normal. But since COVID and the shutting down of many restaurants, some temporarily, some permanently, it felt like a special glimmer of hope.

Creating More Than Just Food

Dave Heide is an impressive figure. He’s the owner of Liliana’s, Charlie’s on Main, Little John’s and recently was a key figure in the Nom Nom Nom kits. If you’re not familiar with his work, almost every project has a twist. Liliana’s offered cooking classes pre-COVID, Charlie’s on Main has a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind a bookcase, Little John’s is a non-profit restaurant where patrons pay-what-they-can for meals and the Nom Nom Nom kits partnered local restaurants with farmers to create takehome meals during COVID.

“I don’t like traditional. I think it’s boring and lame!” Heide tells me as I ask him about the reason behind the twists in his projects. But another obvious focus in Heide’s projects is his relationship with the community.

For many years restaurants have been seen as a core part of the community; they are places where people from all backgrounds are able to come together in ways that don’t often happen elsewhere. This is their opportunity to step more profoundly into that role, to serve their community and in turn, have their community support them. Hong tells me that this is the time for businesses to get creative. With very little help from local or state governments, if restaurants don’t rethink their business model, there is very little hope of survival.


“At this point, it’s much more about the community supporting restaurants than restaurants supporting the community.”


Supporting Local

I press Heide on a trend that seems to be happening in the restaurant world as a whole, but particularly in Madison.

Q: How do you see restaurants supporting the community moving forward?

A: “That’s a great question […] At this point it’s much more about the community supporting restaurants than restaurants supporting the community.”

Q: How has it been being an independent restaurant during COVID, especially as more and more restaurants are

opening up service?

A: “We shouldn’t open up. It’s a money thing, not a humanity thing. And [not opening up] has hurt us badly, financially. Before restaurants reopened we were doing $2,000 in sales on a good night. Now, we’re lucky if we do $500 or $600. […] I can personally think in my head of at least 25 restaurants that are negotiating their leases with their landlords.” 

Q: How can consumers help restaurants right now?

A: “At the beginning of this I had a customer ask me how they could support us and I told them this; write down your 5 favorite restaurants that you want to still be here after COVID. Rotate between them weekly ordering takeout. Don’t buy gift cards because I have to eventually pay that back.”


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