New cafe and music venue opens on Madison’s east side

The Winnebago is serving up food, coffee and music

The Winnebago, a new cafe and music venue on Madison’s east side, has officially opened its doors to the public.

Located at 2262 Winnebago St. in the former headquarters for Madison’s chapter of the Sons of Norway, the Winnebago’s owners, John and Jacob DeHaven, and collaborative partners have breathed new life — and light — into the space.

“This place was shut down to the public for so long,” says Winnebago manager Tori Vancil, who also helped with the building’s renovation. “We let sunshine in the back room for the first time in 50-some years — all the windows had been boarded up.”

Sitting at a table in the cafe on Tuesday, the first morning the Winnebago is open, owner John DeHaven says he and his brother, Jacob, have been anticipating this moment for a long time.

“Jake and I have been talking about something like this for seven years,” John says. “But it was pie in the sky dreaming.”

When Jacob noticed a for sale sign up on the Norway Center building last spring and they toured the building, “we said ‘this is the place,'” says John.

After many months of renovations, negotiations and planning, now that the Winnebago is open John says he feels tired, super excited and anxious. “I’m feeling all the things right now,” says John. “But it’s just been so nice to see life happening in here after so many months of sawdust.”

On the first morning of regularly-scheduled service at the Winnebago, life is happening. The cafe space, which features a 100-year old brick wall and a 50-year-old tile floor, feels cozy, lived-in and established, like it’s long been a neighborhood hangout.

With table lamps, simple flower arrangements, wooden benches and pillows to lean against, visitors easily settle in with cups of Kickapoo coffee or Rishi tea (an espresso machine will add more options soon), newspapers and laptops.

A full breakfast and lunch menu, created by chef Charlie Koczela, offers sweet and savory options. “We’re so excited to be working with Charlie,” says manager Ashlee Miller. “He’s really unique and it’s beautiful to watch him create dishes.”

Formally a line cook at Forequarter, Koczela says he was excited to see what he could do with produce that is available locally in the winter. On the current menu, look for apples, mushrooms, red cabbage, carrots and pickled jalapeños to add flavor and brightness to the toasted oats, oyster mushroom melt, market quiche, biscuits and gravy and Midwest winter salad.

But produce aside, Charlie says one of the dishes he is most excited about is the sourdough French toast, served with red maple syrup from Hickory Hill Farm (“red maple syrup– from red maple trees–has vanilla and butterscotch flavors,” Koczela says.)

“We cut the toast into sticks and cover it in cinnamon sugar so it’s a really nostalgic dish for people,” Koczela says. Adding whipped maple brie to the toast is optional, although one new customer told staff it should be mandatory.

The sourdough bread is made in-house by Matthew Kronschnabel, who is part of the bakery team. Kronschnabel says the bakers are also charged with making the quiche; not just the crust but the filling, too. “It’s the baker’s job to the make the quiche,” says Kronschnabel. “It’s a cool opportunity for us as bakers to put our culinary twist on things.”

The current quiche special with caramelized onions, mushrooms and Hook’s Cheddar Cheese delights with its melt-in-the mouth crust.

The Winnebago is part music venue with its first show scheduled for March 15. The back room has a bar with Wisconsin beers on tap and soon will feature a full bar with locally distilled spirits. There is a stage area, ample seating and an exposed barrel ceiling which adds character to the large room.

Currently open Tuesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Winnebago is up and running. But look for menu additions, an expanded drink menu and more events to be added soon.

The Winnebago’s oak leaf logo represents growth. “Our logo started with an acorn and now it’s a leaf,” Miller says. “Our space is evolving with the community and the community’s needs.”