Best of Madison History: Meet Four Honorees Who Are Multi-Decade Winners

Four amazing BOM winners that have won in 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011!

University Book Store

Pat McGowan, president

How has the business side of things changed for UBS over the years?
In 1981 and 1991 we were competing against other local, independent bookstores—and we were the superstore in Madison. Then between 1991 and 2001 Borders and Barnes and Noble moved in. Between 2001 and 2011 [came] and the
internet. Tailoring the product offerings to what the people want in Madison has been the key.

How has inventory evolved?
Believe it or not there are some supply items that we still carry today. Filing supplies and a lot of the tools that artists use like paints and canvas haven’t changed in many cases since 1981. There are still people who like a basic Wisconsin crewneck or T-shirt, so the designs we were selling in 1981 we’re still selling today. We are under a tremendous challenge from digital books—so finding our role in digital product delivery in the future will be important.

Fun Fact: They opened in 1894! Recently, UBS celebrated its 117th birthday.

Ella’s Deli

Catie Tollefson, general manager

How has the business side of your operation changed?
Since Ken Balkin opened the restaurant in 1976 the number of restaurants [in the city] has gone through the roof—there’s so much more competition. That makes it important for us to have a unique product so people keep coming back. One of the things we try to do is serve high-quality food. We do a ton of from-scratch cooking and baking. And we try to be a place that’s fun, different and interesting for everybody.

How has what you’ve carried over the years changed?
One of the things we’ve stayed true to is that so many places are chains now, and restaurants have started to feel so similar—we’re not cookie-cutter and you can’t find us everywhere else. We have a thirty-page menu, and have unique kid items like teddy bear French toast. We’ve added more health-conscious meals and a vegetarian page to our menu. What hasn’t changed is that we have a Reuben people drive miles away for! We also have a grilled hot fudge pound cake sundae. Those are two things that people most associate with us.

Fun fact: The restaurant’s original location on State Street was opened in the 1960s, providing a kosher deli for the Jewish community. Kosher products remain on the menu today. Oh, and kids eat free Mondays and Tuesdays!

Avenue Bar

Cory Campion, general manager

How has business changed through the years?
Well, we were bought by Food Fight (Ed’s note: Food Fight took over ownership in mid-May), although nothing is changing and we’ll have the same management. We are just going to improve upon what we have, but we’ll have the same atmosphere.

Over the years our business has increased, and when the smoking ban went into effect that didn’t affect us at all. People come to the Avenue for the way it is—a friendly place to gather—politicians come here; fans come after a sporting event. We’ve been a Madison icon for over forty years now, and a lot of people are trying to support local restaurants instead of going to chains.

What about the products?
Today people are asking for more vegetarian items. We don’t have a lot of vegetarian items, but we’re looking at adding more when Food Fight comes in. I don’t think people are eating the quantity of meat they used to twenty years ago—we used to sell a lot more steak. And instead of ordering a 16 oz. sirloin [customers will] order a 10 oz. sirloin.

Fun fact: Looks like not only diners love the Avenue, but employees do, too: roughly ten to fifteen staffers have worked at the Avenue longer than ten years, according to manager Jenny Archibald.

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry

Rachael Stanley, general manager, co-owner (with dad Jeff Stanley)

How has the business side of things changed for Dotty’s over the years?
We’ve definitely expanded our menu for alternative burger versions like buffalo and lamb. Those have become almost as popular as our hamburgers themselves! We’ve been offering healthy items like quite a range of large, hearty salads. And we still do all of our soups and chilis homemade.

What about the products?
Through the ’90s all we offered was build-your-own-burgers and there still aren’t a lot of places where you can build your own.
The main secret is that we consistently turn out a quality product. If the customer is craving a burger, they know exactly what kind they want and they get it at a specific temperature—you can’t do that many other places. We don’t use frozen beef—it’s as fresh as we can get it—and our beef and buffalo are local. And we only use Colonial Bakery bread that’s delivered fresh every day.

Fun fact: Dotty Dumpling is the name of a character (a fat lady in the circus) in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of short stories. Jeff Stanley added the Dowry for the vintage sports memorabilia displayed in the restaurant.


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