Madison’s local food pioneers paved the way for today’s dining culture

These individuals left their mark

These individuals left their mark on the city’s food history and culture.

Roseline Peck (1)
Roseline and her husband, Eben, became Madison’s first white residents when they located a tavern here in 1837. Roseline fed the hungry pioneers who flocked to her table. Her locally sourced turtle soup soon became famous far and wide.

Lucius and Frances Fairchild (2)
He was a decorated Civil War general and Wisconsin’s 10th governor. She was a driving force in the city’s women’s clubs and charities. As our community’s first power couple, an invitation to their mansion for afternoon tea – or better yet, one of their dinner parties – demanded a stylish new outfit.

Stephen M. Babcock (3)
A professor in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s department of agricultural chemistry (which later became the department of food sciences), Babcock began teaching at the school in 1888. His accomplishments include developing a test to determine butterfat content in milk processing and the recognition of nutritional science as a course of study.

Frederick J. Meyer (4)
He put himself through college by selling bags of salty snacks, with potato chips being his best-seller. In 1938 Meyer decided to open his own factory on East Washington Avenue. By 1961, his Red Dot brand was the Midwest’s best-seller.

The Schiavo Family (5)
Three generations of this local Italian-American dynasty produced popular eateries. The patriarch, Jimmy, started the first in the 1930s: the Stone Front Tavern on Regent Street. Then came Jimmy Schiavo’s restaurant in the ’50s and the Continental in the ’60s, both on East Washington Avenue. In 1986, Jimmy’s son Tony and Tony’s wife, Rose Marie, opened Antonio’s on South Park Street. In 1998, along with son Nick, the couple started Cafe Continental on King Street. Son Jim would later join them at what would become one of the downtown’s most successful dining destinations.

The Hoffman Brothers (6)
All but the youngest of the nine Hoffman brothers, Tom, served in World War II, and Bud died in the conflict. The seven returning veterans – Fran, Bob, Cy, Jerry, Chuck, Cos and Walt – pooled their money to open an upscale supper club on East Wilson Street. The Hoffman House grew into a regional chain with a line of bottled sauces and salad dressings. It was sold to Green Giant in 1976 and most of the locations eventually closed, except for the Rockford, Illinois, restaurant. Ishnala Supper Club in Wisconsin Dells survives as a magnificent memorial to the brothers.

Oscar G. Mayer Jr. (7)
Born in Chicago in 1914, he succeeded his father as the third leader of the namesake meatpacker. Mayer Jr. relocated the corporate offices from Chicago to Madison in 1946 and became the company’s chairman in 1966. The maker of hot dogs, cold cuts and the inventor of sliced, prepackaged bacon was primarily owned by Mayer family members until it was sold to General Foods in 1981.

Carson Gulley (8)
For 27 years he was a beloved chef for the University of Wisconsin Food Service. He is best remembered for his fudge-bottom pie, still relished on campus today. Gulley eventually owned a restaurant and catering company. A decade before Julia Child uttered her first “bon appetit!” on PBS, Chef Gulley’s TV show, “What’s Cookin’,” aired locally from 1953 until his death in 1962. He would be the first black man to have his own PBS cooking show.

To see identification of each person, match the numbers below.Madison’s local food pioneers paved the way for today’s dining culture

Dan Curd is a Madison-based food writer who has written for the magazine for more than 20 years. This is the first of two installments of Madison’s Food Hall of Fame written by Curd. The second installment will appear in the June issue.