Nora G. Hertel
Mel Trudeau and John Martens examine plans for an Underground Food Collective restaurant on Williamson Street.
More than a year since Kitchen, the Underground Food Collective restaurant on East Mifflin Street burned down, and three weeks after their newest restaurant, Forequarter, opened on East Johnson Street, collective members Johnny Hunter and Mel Trudeau met Tuesday night with neighborhood residents about another restaurant they hope to open on Williamson Street. About 30 community members showed up at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center to hear Hunter, Trudeau, and property owner John Martens discuss their plans for 809 Williamson St., which was built in the 1950s as a welding studio.
The Underground Food Collective also does catering, meat processing and event consulting. It uses regional food, prepared in an artisanal style.
Much of the discussion Tuesday night focused on balancing the needs of residential and commercial properties in the Marquette neighborhood, and the 800 block of Willy Street in particular.
Martens said he rejected an earlier request to turn the property into a motorcycle repair shop and feels confident that Underground Food Collective will be the right occupant for the space. "I couldn't have picked a better tenant," he said, noting the culinary collective suits "the spirit of [Williamson] street."
Plans for the restaurant include building a kitchen and two decks, one covered, which would seat 38. The restaurant would seat 43 inside. The collective is also looking at converting 811 Williamson St., also owned by Martens, into a delicatessen and butcher shop. It will also likely have an office at 807 Williamson St., also Martens' property.
Tentative parking plans call for a handicapped parking spot and two regular spots, one of which will be reserved for bike parking. "We want to favor bicycle parking and walk-in traffic," said Martens.
Some residents expressed concern about noise and the limited parking. Many residents do not have garages or driveways so they already compete for street parking with visitors to the neighborhood.
Judith Strand, who lives on Jenifer Street, south of the potential restaurant site, also expressed concerns about smells coming from the restaurant., She noted that many area residents, including herself, do not have air conditioning so they are particularly vulnerable to the sounds and smells outside their windows.
Tenants at 409 East Livingston St. may be the most affected by the restaurant and patio. The back of that residence is just about 10 feet from where the proposed outdoor seating would be. Martens plans to build a seven foot wall and mitigate sound through equipment placement, landscaping and other means.
"No other patron in Madison will do more for noise control than us," said Hunter.
The Collective plans to minimize noise from vents by conducting most of its kitchen preparation off site, using only one oven and three burners at the Williamson Street location. Hunter assured neighbors the kitchen would not use a deep fryer either, cutting back on some offensive smells.
But residents still expressed concern that the Marquette neighborhood has experienced enough residential and commercial growth recently. "I think it's incompatible [for that space]," said Strand. "There's a tipping point and this [restaurant] puts us way over the edge."
Hunter expressed a willingness to make concessions to neighborhood requests, such as closing the patio at 10 p.m. or earlier, reducing outdoor seating and not playing music outside. They plan to serve more food than alcohol and claim they attract a quiet clientele. But with calls from some residents to discard the patio concept completely, Hunter admitted, "I don't think we would move forward without the patio."
Resident Michael Matty said that "people like your food, people like your concept," but he and about half the attendees at the meeting wanted more answers from the Collective about solving the parking issue and curbing noise from the patio.
Martens, Hunter, and Trudeau agreed to seek shared parking arrangements in the neighborhood and address some residents' concerns about the patio before proposing their plans to the city.
Hunter explained they're looking to replace their old restaurant, but they're interested in "taking Underground Kitchen and fitting it into what this community is."
The popularity of their former restaurant with customers and residents who shared the building, "speaks to the people who are drawn to what we do and our ability to accommodate," said Hunter.