When I moved to Madison in the mid-1990s, Big Mike was a big deal. His sandwich shops were all the rage, and—bonus!—he delivered to your dorm room or doorstep when you were too lazy or it was too cold to venture out. Mike Liautaud was so successful that he decided to scale his local startup. Today, Milio’s Sandwiches (formerly Big Mike’s Super Subs) is a franchise with fifty locations in four states. Go Big Mike!
Except for one thing: I really, really miss the Number 6—a delightfully simple combination of Wisconsin Provolone, Hellman’s mayo, guacamole, tomato, lettuce and alfalfa sprouts served on a warm French bread roll. For starters, the reason I don’t eat the Number 6 anymore is that my digestive system is no longer twenty-two years old.
Also, when Big Mike went bigger, the portion size started to feel smaller. Maybe I was experiencing chain-food paranoia, but I could swear those thick, yummy tomatoes were getting thinner. And what happened to all that creamy-good guacamole squirting out the sides of my mouth with each delicious bite?
Real or imagined, my beloved Number 6 began to feel more like mall food than Madison food. Milio’s had lost its local mojo.
My poor, deprived taste buds aside, the situation I’m describing presents a real conundrum for a quirky and creative community looking to be a great place for entrepreneurship. As we all know, new businesses beget new jobs and more new businesses, which beget more citizens and civic leaders, more educational opportunities and cultural amenities, more social safety nets for people in need and so on. Here’s the rub: While we love supporting all things local, for this whole “best place to live, work and play” idea to work, we as consumers must make room in our hearts for the future Milio’s of the world, too.
For the record, I’m not arguing the world needs more strip malls with Jimmy John’s and Erbert & Gerbert’s (both founded by Big Mike’s cousins, by the way). What I am saying is Madison needs more Mike Liautauds. Need proof? Google his company’s corporate headquarters and this pops up: “901 Deming Way, Madison, WI 53717 United States.” It’s still a local business; it’s just not so little anymore.
You know what else Madison needs? It needs more people like me to stop harshing on Milio’s and start championing homegrown entrepreneurial spirit big and small. Think about why we love Madison. The answers are so simple and universal: The lakes. The parks. The bike paths. The festivals. The farmers’ markets. The beer. The Badgers. The arts. The sub-zero temperatures (just kidding). And then, maybe, think about giving Big Mike a little credit for his roll, er, role, in making all of this deliciousness possible.
A Number 6, anyone? Make mine a foot-long.
In November, entrepreneur Rebecca Ryan, founder of Madison-based Next Generation Consulting, gave a speech titled “Regeneration” (also the name of her most recent book) at TEDx-BeaconStreet, an independent offshoot of the global TED (Technology, Engineering, Design) Talks. The events feature big thinkers and doers sharing their ideas and innovations. Beacon Street is considered one of the most prestigious on the TEDx circuit, a frequent launching pad for TED speakers and a brand boost for participants.
Also on the speakers’ circuit this fall was Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon, who gave a presentation at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce “State of Wisconsin Business.” His message? “Get people statewide rooting for Dane County and greater Madison because we’re rooting for them,” he says. “At least we should be.”
What's the Plan?
The Wisconsin Technology Council Governor’s Business Plan Contest deadline is January 31. According to its mission, “The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital.” Last year’s winner was UW–Madison researcher Katie Brenner, co-founder of bluDiagnostics, which created an infertility detection device for women.
Two ex-QTI Group execs are hanging up their own shingles in downtown Madison and Waukesha, offering employment and labor law services with “in-house insight.” Clark & Gotzler is the product of former QTI chief operating officer Jane Clark and vice president and general counsel Mark Gotzler.
Written by Brennan Nardi, "Startup City" covers the startup business community in Madison. Find her columns monthly in Madison Magazine.
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