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Madison’s Food Fight Restaurant Group, Madison’s consortium of 18 restaurants and other food ventures, more or less happened by accident. It began with the renovation of an art deco gas station on the near east side. Olaf Severson opened the Phillips 66 station at 2089 Atwood Ave. in 1936. His nephews Dick and Dave Haney took over in the ’50s until their retirement in 1989. Four investors—Joe Krupp, Diana Grove, Peder Moren and Connie Maxwell—recognized the vacant building as a cornerstone in rebuilding the declining Schenk-Atwood Neighborhood. They decided it would be perfect for a down-the-street café, something at the time very much lacking in the area. Since none of them had any food-service experience, they approached Monty Schiro, who worked for local dining chain Ovens of Brittany, and Bob Page, who operated a catering business out of a storefront on Williamson Street. The concept they came up with was a retro diner—Bob’s Blue Plate—paying homage to the vintage edifice.
Things didn’t get off to a good start.
The partnership between Schiro and Page didn’t work out. Page soon returned to catering (today he owns Bob’s Bitchin’ BBQ in Dodgeville) and Schiro was left to run the renamed Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. Unusual at that time, Monty’s offered an extensive selection of vegetarian options, served breakfast all day and featured a case full of gloriously decadent baked goods. It wasn’t long before big crowds flocked to the small diner to chow down on Meatloaf of the Gods, the vegan TNT BLT (made with tempeh bacon) and banana cream pie.
That could have been the end of the story until 1993, when Schiro moved forward in opening an upscale Italian restaurant, Pasta Per Tutti (where Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace is today). When a third restaurant on the near west side, Bluephies, opened in 1994, Schiro and Moren formed the Food Fight Restaurant Group.
Today, Schiro is founder and president of the corporation which employs more than 1,000 people. Food Fight’s mission is to provide the best possible service and experiences for the greater community. It prides itself on the diversity of its dining experiences and its ability to accommodate ever-changing tastes. According to Greg Frank, vice president of community relations, the company’s greatest asset is its employees. Promotion from within is a priority, excellent benefits a prerequisite and the opportunity for restaurant ownership a possibility.
Schiro works with Caitlin Suemnicht, chief creative officer, to come up with new dining concepts. Admittedly, not every idea has been a success. But even at mainstays like Monty’s Blue Plate and Eldorado Grill, menus are constantly tweaked and changed regularly. After 22 years, Bluephies recently closed, replaced by the duo of Everly—which is restaurant No. 19 in the food group and features fresh, healthy dining options—and Miko Poké, which offers Hawaiian-style sushi in a bowl. Keeping its finger on Madison’s food pulse has been Food Fight’s secret to success. It’s also gratifying proof that money in the food service industry can be made without paying low-wage jobs or dispensing a one-size-fits all product.
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