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The backstory: The area around Yola’s Café on Madison’s west side looks a lot different today than it did in 2009, when Lisa and Lance Ratze opened the coffee shop, named after Lance’s grandmother. Nine years ago, the Commerce Drive eatery was surrounded by much more undeveloped land. Today, hotels, apartment complexes, assisted living homes and condos surround it, which is a happy coincidence given the mission the Ratzes set out to accomplish—to build a community.
The vibe: “It’s a great environment; it kind of reminds me of my grandmother’s house when we would get together on the weekends and bring family and friends together over food,” says Lance. It’s a bright and business-friendly café, but it’s also ultra kid friendly with a play area. The family atmosphere has always been intentional, as the Ratzes’ kids Josh, 17, Alyssa, 15, and Kaden, 12, practically grew up in the shop.
The menu: Yola’s serves breakfast and lunch and also caters, with many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Savory breakfast options highlight fresh, local ingredients, but the waffle section of the menu is the star of the show, with options including “The Patriot” (strawberries and blueberries) and “The Nutty Banana” (banana, walnuts and caramel sauce).
The must-try: This place would surely impress waffle fanatic Leslie Knope, the “Parks & Recreation” TV series character played by Amy Poehler. Yola’s often caters waffle bars at businesses and events, and each month the café has a “Donation Creation,” which is a seasonal waffle offering with the added benefit that Yola’s donates $1 to a local nonprofit for every one sold. “We’ve given back to 16 local nonprofits [as of February 2018],” Lance says. February features a red velvet waffle with cream cheese frosting.
The bottom line: Two items hanging on the wall are passionate odes to this community-minded café: An old-fashioned waffle iron used by Lance’s grandmother Yola to make the golden malted Belgian waffles that inspired the café’s recipe, and the shop’s award from Dane Buy Local for its commitment to local sourcing.
494 Commerce Drive, 827-5800
Andrea Behling is managing editor of Madison Magazine.