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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 54.0° F  Overcast
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Saving Mildred's Sandwich Shop
Staff keeps the Madison institution open
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From the recipe trove at Mildred's. Some were never written down and had to be pieced together by former employees.
From the recipe trove at Mildred's. Some were never written down and had to be pieced together by former employees.
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

Mildred's Sandwich Shop at 827 E. Johnson St. is a Madison institution, never flashy but always a reminder that sandwiches, done well, need not resemble something coming off the assembly line at Subway. When longtime owner Nels Nelson died this past April, the future of Mildred's was in limbo. Ryan Smith, who'd been working at Mildred's but "hadn't really had hours for a while," figured "we'd all be out of a job."

But thanks to Nelson's sister Dianne and some dedicated employees, the doors reopened in May. Smith eventually took on the role of manager - ordering food, scheduling, keeping the books and hiring new employees. Smith credits Nelson's sister for helping him get his management certification.

The menu hasn't changed. But some of Nelson's recipes were not written down. While there were some very old recipe books, many dishes weren't documented. Former Mildred's workers from over the years contributed what they remembered about how to make various chilis and soups, and eventually most of the menu was re-created - and put in writing into a new recipe file. Smith thinks the Mildred's alumni have done a pretty good job of it. And customers have been appreciative.

As for the future of the eatery, it has been for sale, and Smith believes there have been offers. "Whether whoever buys it will keep things the same or not, I don't know," he says.

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