Quentin Braun died Wednesday, June 20, at the age of 81. If the name rings a bell, your order is up: Braun was the proprietor of Cleveland's Lunch from 1972 to 1992. A fixture behind the counter and at the grill, he was one of the great Madison characters of the time. His friends sometimes called him the Grinch, but you have to remember that the Dr. Seuss creature turned out to have quite a generous heart.
Donald Sanford got to know Braun first as a patron of his diner, and later at WHA-TV, where Sanford worked and Braun was a volunteer. "For many years," he recalls, "Quent volunteered during our membership drives as a Saturday and Sunday morning omelet chef. He taught me the finer points of flipping eggs without the aid of a spatula. When my kids got ready to set up their own apartments, Quentin advised me on the best pans to buy for making eggs and omelets. Actually, he said, go to Farm & Fleet and get the cheapest smooth-sided pans they have. They're the best."
Cleveland's had already been an East Wilson Street institution for more than half a century by the time Braun took over the operation. Orlando Cleveland opened Cleveland's Lunch Room in 1911 and was its proprietor for almost four decades. When he died, in 1950, he was succeeded by William Anderson, who had worked for Cleveland for 30 years and kept his late boss' name on the business. When Anderson died in 1972, Braun bought the business but retained its founder's name.
During his tenure, Cleveland's was for a time home to WORT-FM's "Breakfast Special." The diner also had a motto: "There's always something buzzing at Cleveland's." That phrase was accompanied by a caricature of Braun wielding a fly-swatter.
After cooking breakfast and lunch for his patrons for 20 years, Braun retired and moved north to Rosendale, about halfway between Fond du Lac and Ripon. The restaurant was shuttered for a couple of years, but reopened in 1994 under the ownership of Telly and Nico Fatsis. Like their predecessors, they kept the original name.
Sanford notes that Braun made frequent return visits to Madison after his retirement, many of them to volunteer for Wisconsin Public Television functions. But he adds that Braun had been in failing health in recent months.
Reminiscing via e-mail, Sanford writes: "My own memory of Quentin involves a cake. One night at the station, we began discussing the finer points of life and somehow cycled around to A&P grocery stores. They used to sell a Spanish Bar Cake. Quentin remembered it and said that he had this great recipe for a cake that tasted like the Spanish Bar Cake."
Sanford recalls the cake as "a huge treat" from his youth. Quentin never divulged where he got the recipe, but he "hinted it was from a connection he'd made years ago with a baker at an Ann Page bakery. Very hush-hush. The cake was kind of like a carrot cake but not quite. He made one special for me years ago."
That was Braun, who fed people for a living but also out of generosity. Heart big as the Grinch's.
According to the obituary that ran in The Oshkosh Northwestern , Braun was born on June 8, 1926. "Quentin loved to cook," the obit reads. "Quentin owned and operated Cleveland's Restaurant in Madison. He enjoyed hunting and fishing when he had the time. He volunteered for Public Television and Olbrich Gardens in Madison," the obituary continues, noting that survivors include a sister, six nieces and nephews and six great-nieces and great-nephews.
A memorial service was held last Saturday at Peace Lutheran Church in Rosendale, followed by military honors including a color guard and 21-gun salute. (He was a U.S. Army veteran.) One of those in attendance reports that Braun was cremated and his urn placed on the altar next to a U.S. flag, a bouquet of roses and a stuffed Grinch toy.