Independent restaurants trying to break the chains

by Rebecca Wolfson

News Reporter

Local Madison restaurants are coming together to compete with chain eateries.

Madison Originals, a group comprised of some of the city’s independent restaurants, is a local chapter of a nationwide movement called the Council of Independent Restaurants of America, an organization devoted to preventing cities from turning into “any-town USA.”

Robert Kinkead, a chef from Washington, D.C., started the group after noticing independent restaurants and mom-and-pop joints closing all around the city. He said he wanted to do something to help market the locally owned restaurants the same way national chains market themselves.

“[The CIRA] is helping independent restaurants compete better and become more well-known to the dining public,” Kinkead said. “The money [independent restaurants] make is going back to the community in terms of wages, jobs and profits.”

There are about 50 restaurants involved in Madison Originals, more than any other CIRA chapter.

“It’s important to remember that these [independent restaurants] are the true contributors to the community,” said Lee Pier, general manager of the Nitty Gritty.

In support of one another, Madison Originals provides lists of all the organizations involved at various local restaurants and theaters.

“We are trying to educate people,” said Tami Lax, owner of Harvest restaurant and Madison Originals member.

However, some chain restaurants in Madison seem to feel untouched by this mom-and-pop initiative.

“Personally, I don’t feel threatened by it,” said Sue Foster, manager of Einstein’s Bagels.

Foster also said she was unable to comment any further without consulting the corporate headquarters.

Some restaurants involved in Wisconsin Originals include Harvest, White Horse & Griglia Tuscany, Dog Eat Dog, Crescent City Grill, Luther’s Blues, Hawk’s and Ian’s Pizza by the Slice. More are becoming involved.

“The importance comes from the fact that we have such a strong base of independent restaurants here,” Lax said. “I would like to encourage people to support local restaurants.”

Madison Originals is offering a multitude of flavors at its first event tonight, “Local Bounty.” It will be hosted at Quivey’s Grove, located at 6261 Nesbitt Rd.

A huge buffet table featuring the food of Madison’s independent restaurants, along with beer and complementary wine, will be available.

The event will also include live music from the local band “The New Breed,” featuring Leo Sidran, raffles and an auction. Tickets will be sold at the door for $15.