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Winnebago Arts Cafe hopes to open by October

July 24, 2018

Musical brothers John and Jake DeHaven are planning a cafe, coffee shop, bar and performance space in the old Sons of Norway building on Madison’s Near East Side.

John said they hope to have The Winnebago Arts Cafe, 2262 Winnebago St., open by Oct. 1.

The DeHavens bought the building in March with money they inherited from their mother.

“We wanted to do something good in the community,” John, 33, said, referencing problematic equity issues in the restaurant, bar and music industries, and stressing that they will strive to create an workplace where everyone is treated fairly.

“We’ve got all kinds of ideas about how that might work,” John said.

The brothers want to make The Winnebago as affordable as possible, not only through pricing, but also by offering a ” pay it forward option,” where customers can contribute to a special account that can later be accessed by those who can’t afford to pay for a meal or a show, John said.

“And if there’s not money in there, we’ll figure out a work-trade. You know, everybody eats,” he said.

The DeHavens grew up in Fitchburg and went to Verona High School. Jake, 26, fronts a band called Tejsa and is the engine behind the Prism Festival, a two-year-old local music and arts festival held last year in the Robinia Courtyard on East Washington Avenue.

John began his musical career playing jazz and went to college for trumpet at UW-Eau Claire. In 2015, he tied for the title in the Overture Center’s Rising Stars competition.

He spent six years working at a Thai restaurant called Sawatdee in St. Paul, Minnesota, working mostly as a server, but taking on some managerial tasks towards the end of his time there.

“I’ve been a musician semi-professionally for most of my life and so I supplemented that income with restaurant work,” said John, who played with his old friend, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, after college.

Since then, John said his music has been in the “indie realm,” but he plays folk, rock, and experimental, improvised music solo and in bands. He’s the nephew of longtime local jazz singer Kelly DeHaven and the grandson of the late Madison jazz musician Doster “Doc” DeHaven.

The Winnebago’s kitchen manager, Julie Bloor, trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London and has worked in Italy, France and Minneapolis, John said. “Her level of experience is really going to be infinitely valuable to us.”

From 1987 to 2002, Bloor was chef, menu designer and kitchen manager for what was then the Minneapolis bistro, Lucia’s Restaurant.

There, according to her resume, she coordinated and trained a team of 15 chefs and “established a successful business network that enabled Twin Cities restaurants to connect with local farms and specialty producers.”

At Lucia’s, she designed 50 artisan menus each year in conjunction with farmers. Likewise, The Winnebago is focusing on a “simple seasonal menu of fresh and locally sourced food, fair trade coffee, an extensive tea selection, and a full bar featuring local craft beer, wine and spirits,” according to plans submitted to the city.

Making sure everyone is comfortable is important, John said. “Our goal is to basically create a good living situation for everybody that’s working there and everybody that comes to visit.”

The capacity for The Winnebago is 99, but that could increase once the brothers can afford a fire suppression system.

John said his mother Norma’s illness brought him and his two brothers back to the Madison area. John was in the Twin Cities, but was doing some touring. Jake was in Boulder, Colorado, and their brother, Spencer, 30 -- who is helping with The Winnebago, but isn’t an investor -- was in Milwaukee.

“There’s good in all of the bad stuff as well,” John said.

As The Winnebago comes together, the DeHavens are reaching out to the community for inspiration.

“The only way it’s going to work is with community support and guidance,” John said. “We’re very open to suggestions, help, advice. There have been a number of people who have rallied around it already, but there’s a ton of really amazing people in Madison that we just don’t know.”

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