New restaurant planned for Mermaid Café space

Four partners announce plans for new venture
New restaurant planned for Mermaid Café space

The new owners of the building formerly housing the Mermaid Cafe took official ownership today and announced their plans for a restaurant to reopen in the space mid to late August, says Sean Pharr.

Pharr, most recently the executive chef at Capitol Chophouse, is one of four partners in the new venture along with Chad Vogel, Tom Cranley and Travis Knight. Pharr plans to head the kitchen, Vogel (who also owns Robin Room and the Barmadillo, a mobile cocktail bar) will handle beverages, Tom Cranley is the head contractor who’s helped build many Madison restaurants, and Knight will manage beverage operations and front of house.

“This is the whole reason why I moved back to Madison,” says Pharr, who spent 10 years as a chef in Chicago, including a stint as executive chef at The Bristol. Opening his own restaurant in Madison, which is where his culinary career began, was always his endeavor.

The focus of this new restaurant will be on smaller plates, for lack of a better term, Pharr says. Beverage pairing will be a key element, as will be a heavy brunch program–similar in ways to what he was doing at The Bristol. Pharr wants the menu to be one that rotates quite frequently until some become neighborhood-status plates, he says. Pharr wants his offerings to be fresh, seasonal and veggie forward.

“The concept is kind of based very loosely on a fern bar,” he says. “Basically what we’re trying to do is create a very bright and light atmosphere with lots of living elements. The team plans to renovate the space, and Pharr says he expects the new restaurant to seat 40-45 people.

“The building is kind of quirky and oddly shaped, but it has character and it’s in a great neighborhood,” Pharr says.Many in Madison were sad to see Mermaid Cafe close its doors, which had been open at 1929 Winnebago Street since 2005 by owner Lisa Jacobson. Jacobson had become good friends with Cranley when he was at Roman Candle, Pharr says. “[She] was actually one of the first customers at the Roman Candle and became good friends with Tom,” he says.

New restaurant planned for Mermaid Café space

Pharr’s friendships with Vogel and Cranley go back a few years as well. Pharr met Cranley about 13 years ago while he was opening the Barriques in Fitchburg. Pharr says he’s also helped build Natt Spil and the Robin Room. “He’s just been a fixture in the Madison food scene,” Pharr says.

Pharr and Vogel have been best friends for 18 years. “I moved to Chicago, he stayed here, and the plan was always to move back and do something with Chad,” Pharr says.

There’s no name for the restaurant just yet, but plans are moving quickly, Pharr says. “The entire group is extremely creative and so excited,” he says.