Madison native Taylor Beebe’s only prior experience in the restaurant industry had been limited to a brief stint at a pizza place. But after discovering her love for Belgian-style frites during a trip to New York City, she aspired to open a shop of her own. That aspiration is now a reality: Mad City Frites opened its State Street doors Tuesday, exhausting its entire supply of 160 pounds of potatoes in its first day.
For Beebe, this drive for deliciousness began years ago.
“Right out of high school, I wanted to go to culinary school,” Beebe said. Upon graduating from James Madison Memorial High School, an offer to play collegiate volleyball at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota put a halt to those plans until her graduation last spring.
After a few setbacks, including a recent furnace failure — it was “unbearably cold in the shop”, according to Beebe — Mad City Frites is now open for business. The shop exclusively serves gourmet frites and an array of dipping aiolis and sauces, all of which are Madison-themed. Beebe’s favorite is the “Gameday Garlic,” a rosemary garlic aioli.
But what makes a Belgian-style frite so unique? To Beebe, it’s all in the preparation.
“It’s a fresh-cut fry, twice fried: soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside,” Beebe said. That way, she said, it can hold up to various sauces.
As diverse as Madison’s food scene is, gourmet frites aren’t easy to come by. The few locations that do serve frites tend to be more upscale, sit-down restaurants. This presented a unique opportunity for Beebe to open a dedicated frites shop in Madison.
After considering several potential locations, including the new Varsity Quarters building on Monroe Street, Beebe settled on 320 State St., the former Shakti Bookstore space.
“I had always envisioned it on State Street,” Beebe said. “We’d just finished looking at the [Varsity Quarters] spot, and on our way back we saw this space, peeked in the window and fell in love with it.” Beebe said the owner of the building originally did not want a restaurant in the space, but after some discussion and a little convincing, they reached an agreement on Beebe’s business plan.
Conveniently located mere blocks from more than a dozen popular campus and downtown bars, Mad City Frites will be open until 3 a.m. Thursdays to Saturdays. Beebe understands the importance of restaurants in Madison’s vibrant nightlife scene, with iconic shops like Ian’s Pizza staying open past bar hours to feed the campus’s many ambitious, inebriated customers.
The red brick interior and metal tables give Mad City Frites the feel of an industrial pub. Beebe said she drew some inspiration from Natt Spil, a restaurant located on King Street. With the help of Madison’s own Ideal Builders, Beebe transformed the State Street space from an old bookstore to a completely redone frites shop in just five months.
Along one brick wall sits a station with four self-serve iPad kiosks where customers order and pay for their frites. In addition to accepting cash and credit card payments, Mad City Frites also accepts Red Card to make paying even easier for customers. Using an all-electronic process offers several advantages over traditional methods.
“Since our menu is limited, it’s fairly easy from an ordering standpoint,” Beebe explained. “It cuts down on staff and waste while speeding up the ordering process.”
The menu will include poutine, a French-Canadian dish traditionally served as French fries or frites covered in gravy and fresh cheese curds. Beebe also hopes to serve seasonal treats like fritters in the wintertime and on farmers’ market Saturdays.
Having lived in Madison since sixth grade, Beebe feels a strong connection to the Madison community and hopes that Mad City Frites can become a permanent part of it.
“I didn’t go to college here, but I wish I had,” Beebe said. “I love the school and Madison. I wouldn’t want to open up this restaurant anywhere else.”