Restaurateur launches capital campaign to bring pay-what-you-can concept to Madison

FITCHBURG, Wis. — During a recent tour of the space housing his newest restaurant concept, the pride in David Heide’s voice was evident.

The Madison-based restauranteur has been talking about the concept — Little John’s Kitchen — for years, but he just got the keys to the space this month.

Currently, it looks like an empty warehouse off Verona Road, but by July, Heide hopes to transform it into a massive food space able to serve 40,000 meals per week for those in need.

That would be a significant upscaling from the 5,500 his staff is currently able to serve from a temporary kitchen.

“We’re turning down schools every day, we’re turning down shelters every day because we’re at capacity,” he said. “Once we get this location built, we won’t have to turn people away anymore.”

Little John's coming soon sign

David Heide’s hopes to raise another $3 million to bring a pay-what-you-can restaurant to Madison. WISC-TV/Channel3000.

Included in the vision is a pay-what-you-can restaurant.

“We’ll have a veteran’s training kitchen next to it, they’ll get paid a $15 per hour training wage for a full six months and then we’ll get them into Madison College or another restaurant to cook,” Heide added.

From the archives: Get to know Madison-voted best chef: David Heide

This month, Heide and Little John’s kicked off a capital campaign he said he hopes will help the project become self-sufficient in the long term.

Self-sufficiency will be helped by partnerships with local grocery stores and farmers, who will have access to a meat production area inside the new facility.

Heide has a goal of $6 million; so far, he’s halfway there and is asking community members to pitch in by buying a $5 square tile for a mural going up inside the Overture Center. For every $5 donated, one more piece of artwork will go up in the Overture’s window.

Heide hopes the community will come through so he can focus his energy on serving those in need.

“There’s nothing like Little John’s, period,” he said. “Not just in Madison.”

The capital campaign runs through the end of the year.