PHOTOS: Fairchild’s doors open, then forced to close two weeks later

New Monroe Street restaurant offering takeout options during COVID-19 crisis.
Two deviled eggs topped with trout roe and a tiny sprig of dill
Deviled eggs with trout roe and dill (Photo by Andrea Behling)

At the beginning of March, Fairchild restaurant opened its doors for the first time on Monroe Street.

Two weeks later, its owners were forced to close them indefinitely.

“The first (and only) two weeks of opening Fairchild were fantastic,” says Itaru Nagano, co-owner and co-chef of Fairchild. “We were busier than anticipated, and people for the most part seemed to be enjoying everything.”

Then COVID-19 hit, and Nagano and his business partners, Andrew Kroeger and Patrick Sierra, had to dramatically shift their brand new business plan.

Before COVID-19
Fairchild’s opening was highly anticipated, and not surprisingly, L’Etoile alums Nagano and Kroeger introduced an impressive menu right out of the gate. “We kind of went with things that we know and we’ve done variations of,” says Kroeger, who most recently ran an Italian restaurant in Texas before getting the call from Nagano.

The opening menu was an ode to casual Wisconsin cuisine with subtle fine dining touches. The chefs call the menu “ingredient driven.” “Our focus I think was using the best ingredients — using the best farmers and being the middle men to the guests. Making it simple,” Nagano says.

In the snack section, dishes like the deviled eggs and an uncomplicated bowl of popcorn gave off clear Wisconsin supper club/bar food vibes. They knew they wanted to make pasta dishes to put Kroeger’s experience and interest to work. “I’m excited about Andy’s pastas,” says Nagano. One of Fairchild’s four pasta options is the pappardelle made with lamb, Calabrian chili and aged sheep’s milk cheese.

Entrees included cod, American red snapper, cassoulet and beef on the opening menu, and guests were also able to graze from well-portioned appetizers and sides that included beets, carrots, potato gratin, mushroom risotto and more. Fairchild’s menu is like many you find today — easy to split a few small, medium and large plates among your table, but just as easy to order a meal of your own.

Kroeger and Nagano — neither being pastry chefs, as they’ll tell you — left a sweet surprise for the final course. They offered desserts focused on fresh-made ice cream. “I love making ice cream and I care about it, and things come out better when you really care about it and want to make it good,” Kroeger says. Not a lot of other restaurants are focusing on ice cream right now, Nagano adds. “But we’re in the dairy state,” Kroeger continues.

While not intentional, the chefs say it almost feels like they’re filling a gap, since the beloved Michael’s Frozen Custard closed its doors permanently nearby. “It just all kind of fell into place and made sense,” Nagano says.

After COVID-19
Nights were busy, reservations were multiplying —then COVID-19 changed everything. Fairchild had to adjust its menu to limit the number of options and minimize waste in order to adapt to takeout-only. The owners were also forced to cut down all of their labor, besides themselves and their sous chef. “We are saving all of the tips that the guests leave us to divvy up amongst all of our staff,” Nagano says.

But to-go offerings have been successful, Nagano says. They’re making enough to pay the bills and stay afloat for the foreseeable future, but he says he really doesn’t know what it means for the new business in the end. “I think that we were very lucky that we were able to be open for the two weeks prior to build somewhat of a guest base,” Nagano says. “There are a few people from the neighborhood that support us a lot and ordering multiple times a week.”

In addition to normal cleanliness, Nagano says the restaurant is using bleach water to wipe down the door handles and pens after each guest uses them. “We are being very careful to keep the distance between everyone,” he says. Fairchild’s takeout menu includes a dinner-for-two option with your choice of protein, two sides and a salad, which options changing daily. Along with the dinner-for-two option, you’re able to order items from the regular menu that are available that day, plus the full wine list. Check Fairchild’s website for the daily menu.

Fairchild takes calls starting at noon and offers takeout from 2 to 8 p.m. every day. Nagano says they’re thinking about expanding hours to include a lunch menu, depending on how long they have to keep their doors closed.

Fairchild is among dozens of Madison area restaurants that have joined a nationwide chorus asking for financial assistance due to the impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant industry. “I think it is great that all of the chefs in our area are communicating and trying to figure out ways to get funding from the government,” Nagano says.