Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.
Gift subscriptions now available!Subscribe Now
Winner of a Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, Monty Schiro opened Monty’s Blue Plate in 1990. In the ensuing 27 years, the Food Fight Restaurant Group he co-founded has grown to 20 eateries, many of which rank among the most inventive and original restaurants in Dane County. Food Fight finds itself on both sides of the divide between hot, new restaurants and longstanding local institutions, and Schiro and his team are as qualified as anyone to explain how to make that early success last.
Which years are the hardest for a restaurant that stays in business for more than 20 years?
Things are great initially. You’re new. You’re busy. Then in that second or third year you feel like you have to catch up to where you started. It’s then that you have to have endeared yourself to a good, solid base of customers and employees. There are a few employees at Monty’s Blue Plate now who have been there since the very beginning. It’s like a family. And now we talk to people in their 20s who bring their babies to Monty’s who tell us they have been coming since their parents brought them when they themselves were babies. That means a lot to us.
After a restaurant has been around for a while, is it difficult to strike a balance between continuing to do what has made the restaurant successful while also trying new things?
There really is a finesse period there. It’s a hard decision when it comes to changing the things that a lot of people love. The bean burger and the grain burger were two of our most popular dishes at Monty’s. When we started serving those no one else in town had them. Then suddenly everybody’s got one. You can even buy them frozen. We changed it. We stopped putting them on the menu. Now we bring the bean burger back as the daily special once in a while, and people who have always loved it know that we appreciate them and listen to them.
What advice do you have for new restaurants that want to be around 20 years from now?
Be ready to work hard—all the time. I think it’s a great career. I love it. I like people. If you don’t like being around people or if you are risk averse, don’t do it. It’s so hard that I think you have to love it just to keep going.
Have you ever actually delivered that advice to a new restaurant that wasn’t a Food Fight restaurant?
Yes. I have met with many Madison restaurant owners over the years to discuss business, talk shop and give advice when asked. For me it’s more a matter of: You can be nice or you can be a jerk.
Dustin Beilke is a Madison-based freelance writer.