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Monday, December 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Fair
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Payow Thongnuam, co-owner, with wife Janet, of Mickie's Dairy Bar
Mickie's Dairy Bar, 1115 Monroe St.
Thongnuam: Grilled cheese forever.
Thongnuam: Grilled cheese forever.
Credit:Susan Kepecs

Why you should go: Hands down, it's my all-time favorite. Nothing in this world beats a Mickie's grilled cheese with pickles and a chocolate malt.

How did you fall in love with Mickie's? My family came to the Dells from Thailand when I was pretty little. I met my wife there - she was in college and I was a young guy trying to make a living. I was a chef at Hoffman House and the Janesville Country Club before we decided to buy a restaurant. I was working really hard and not making any money even though I graduated from MATC with an associate degree in culinary arts. My brother-in-law was working in Madison. He saw that Mickie's was up for sale, so we came to take a look and we liked it. We clicked with the owner because we promised to keep it just the way it was.

At first I was really scared. The restaurant business is tough - if you don't make it in the first year, you go down. But I figured making an investment might pan out. My wife's the backbone of this place; she does all the paperwork. My older kids pitch in, too. My oldest daughter wrote the signs on the menu board - she has the best handwriting in the house. Together we've worked really hard, and we've had a great 17 years - buying Mickie's turned out to be the best decision we ever made.

Is it still just the way it was before you bought it? We put new linoleum tiles on the floor when we first moved in, though this place gets a lot of use - they look pretty worn out now. And since we first took over, we've added kids' meals and a few specials - banana, strawberry and chocolate chip pancakes, Cajun steak, liver and onions. We sell lots of that. People say this is the only place in town where you can get that. It's a lot of food at a cheap price. People say oh man, this is a great deal! Nobody ever leaves Mickie's hungry.

What's with the developers who keep trying to buy up this block? They had two different proposals, for condos and a hotel, which both got turned down, but they're working on a new plan now. I'm the only one on the block who refuses to sell. I go to their presentations but I just stay neutral and mind my own business. They can't get the whole block without this building, and they can't make me sell. That would be terrible. What would I do? I'm still young. I have six kids to put through college. This place is my investment!

Besides, Mickie's has been here so long, we're like the grandfather of Monroe Street. The folks in the neighborhood really want us to stay. They've been very supportive. And people from all over the world who went to school here come back and bring their kids in to say hi. They're so happy we're still here - they say they could never forget Mickie's. It makes me feel proud. I won't sell, absolutely not. No way. I'm blessed to have a business like this.

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