A new restaurant has clawed its way into the east side of Madison, the Lake Edge Seafood Company is a fresh stop for people to get their fix of marine cuisine.
A father and son combination have transformed the former Cozy Home furniture consignment shop in the Lake Edge Shopping Center on 4100 Monona Dr. into an alternative grocery store specializing in fresh seafood.
Co-owner and General Manager of Lake Edge Robert Kitto, 30, said he was inspired to open the store after noticing a lack of seafood provieders.
“We settled on the idea of a seafood market because we felt the east side was drastically underserved,” Robert Kitto said.
Robert and his father had been going through serious conversations about running a business together for more than five years.
The original plan for the company was to run a competitive seafood counter that would give east siders access to a variety of seafood including lobster, scallops, blue marlin and shrimp.
But when the former owner of Thrift Painting, now co-owner of Lake Edge, John Kitto, 54, received word their establishment would take on more space than anticipated, they decided to take a dive into the deep end.
“We felt so lucky to get this much space that we expanded our plan to do the restaurant with a seafood counter,” John Kitto said.
Transforming the location began Nov. 1, where a complete rebuild of the property began.
Lake Edge’s counter service has been open since Dec. 30, but the decision to add a restaurant has resulted in delays in the grand opening, which has now been pushed to Jan. 22.
“We’re making sure everything is fine-tuned, we’re making our own sauces, adjusting recipes, training chefs,” John Kitto said. “We want to be ready.”
Expanding to a restaurant meant the interior layout had to be rearranged. Dual televisions are up by the front counter, not to stain the aesthetic value of the large, gorgeous text menu you can read when you first walk in the door.
The Kittos spent an additional $10,000 just to move a bathroom from the back of the building toward the seating area for customer convenience.
“The neighborhood knew what we were doing. They were peeking through the windows just to see a tremendous mess of two by four’s and cement saws,” John Kitto said.
Even during the very first stages of the Lake Edge Seafood Company, locals were curious to see what new business they would be welcoming.
“We would still invite them in and get their input.”
The Kittos chose the Lake Edge community because of the high area of traffic, the parking and most importantly, being in a corner of the city that needs seafood.
“Once we started hearing things for the third time, we started to realize we have a good idea,” John Kitto said.
The two initially considered a franchise like Jimmy John’s since, “franchises are easy,” John Kitto said, but ultimately threw out the concept because it lacked creativity.
The west side is arguably saturated with seafood establishments, so the Kittos sought to fill a void.
The food is priced aggressively to compete with grocery stores who can get their product at a greater scale, while simultaneously priced at a reasonable comparison to restaurants. The Kittos have already hired three chefs, but are still looking for additional counter workers.
“Counter service keeps the cost down because it keeps labor down,” John Kitto said.
When the restaurant opens, the east side will be able to place orders at the back counter and then take a seat in a Five Guys-esque arrangement where their food will be served to them.
The menu is comprised of products that are several days fresher than grocery stores and are higher grade. Lake Edge is the only store that sells Bering Bounty, a Verona-based fishing company that catches a variety of seafood from Alaska, which according to the Kittos, is quicker to deliver, colder and wild-caught.
The restaurant menu offers seafood cakes with a Cajun remoulade as a starter. If you’re still reeling from New Orleans Takeout closing over the summer, you can get your po’boy cravings satisfied with the Lake Edge po’boy. Your choices of fried shrimp, oyster or tilapia on Louisiana hot sauce on a fresh French hoagie roll can’t be taken for granted.
The dark horse of the menu has to be the Smoked Salmon Bisque, which can be ordered as a cup for $3.95 or a bowl for $5.95. The premiere dinners are the lobster mac and bering bounty cod, strategically and wisely placed at the top of the menu.
A seafood restaurant is only legitimate if it offers a fish fry, and the poorman’s lobster, a bering bounty cod baked with butter, white wine and paprika, satisfies the requirement.
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Lake Edge has a liquor license and an impressive selection of salads for those interested in a lighter meal. Cheesecake, bread pudding and crème brûlée can be ordered if the marine products trigger your sweet tooth.
But customers wanted more options, such as fish that aren’t necessarily wild caught. Some people have requested farmed fish like tilapia, the Kittos were reluctant to go through fishery’s, but strive to provide what the customers crave.
Customers on the east side are not shy about giving the two entrepreneurs suggestions.
“Are you ever going to get smelt? Crawfish? It goes on, and we satisfy,”Robert Kitto said.
Robert worked at Metro Market for a year, where he worked under Russel Hackworthy. After Robert left to start the Lake Edge project with his father, he contacted Hackworthy to offer him the position of executive chef.
You read that correctly — Robert quit and then hired his boss.
“He was the dream candidate,” Robert Kitto said. “He wasn’t getting much creativity for a deli manager, especially for what he is.”
John searched the city for a location that could be accessible to east siders no matter where they worked. But to his surprise, the east side doesn’t cover half of his customers.
Robert Kitto said his customers are from all over, including Evansville, Deerfield, Sun Prairie — all located in Wisconsin — with a crowd from downtown.
Robert Kitto’s sister Cassie has played a crucial role in the construction of Lake Edge.
“She is refurbishing an antique for our coffee service,” John Kitto said. “We’re not trying to make it a coffee shop, but we’re going to have really good coffee.”
Lake Edge Seafood Company will be open seven days a week, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and will serve brunch on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a specialized menu that includes steak and eggs to cater to folks getting out of church.
Although the restaurant is not quite ready to fill all 44 seats surrounded by dividers and knee walls, as well as 1200-pound timber beams left from the previous owner implemented to the design, the proud father and son combination is tired but ecstatic.
“We’ve had four days off in almost three months, but it’s all good, it’s exciting,” John Kitto said.