Alex Lindenmeyer and Sinéad McHugh are honestly surprised no one's thought of it before. "I mean, it's breakfast. Everyone loves breakfast," says Lindenmeyer, who gestures wildly as she talks as though she's conducting an orchestra. Their excitement for their all-night breakfast joint, Short Stack Eatery, would be infectious even if they weren't talking about serving pancakes downtown at 2 a.m. In August 2010, the friends conceived of the idea while sitting at a bar in Antigua, Guatemala, scribbling their plan on "about 30 napkins."
The young entrepreneurs -- both 25 -- call Madison home. They say they could've taken the idea to multiple cities, but Madison's strong restaurant community and college-town energy convinced them it was the right fit. "We saw an opportunity here," says Lindenmeyer. "We thought, Why doesn't Madison have something like this?"
They have brains and passion in spades, but they also have the experience to back it up, thanks in part to Madison's strong support system for entrepreneurs. When the team decided they wanted to open a restaurant, they began taking restaurant industry classes at MATC. "They have these awesome, very specific classes for entrepreneurs -- cost analysis, for example," says Lindenmeyer. They had further support through Merlin Mentors, which partners business professionals with local entrepreneurs for guidance and support. "All four of our mentors were Madison-based," says Lindenmeyer. "They ran through every aspect of starting the business with us."
For hands-on restaurant management training, Lindenmeyer worked at Denny's to experience the late-night and breakfast rush scene, while McHugh, who had already worked at Mickie's Dairy Bar, went to Roman Candle to immerse herself in a small, independent business setting. "At this point we've done everything -- we've been servers, cooks, dishwashers, managers," says McHugh. "Restaurant experience can't be learned in a book."
After observing what works and what doesn't, learning from their work, research on the industry, and mentors, Lindenmeyer and McHugh have their core values in mind. First, simplicity -- their menu will be small, with twelve items (divided into "sweet" and "savory," since people tend to think of breakfast as one or the other) featuring well-selected ingredients. They're willing to reveal a few dishes: sweet potato oatmeal pancakes and Cajun biscuits and gravy will be on the menu. Second, their motto is "assume nothing -- they're humble enough to know that they can't do everything, and they're willing to ask questions.
"We will never assume we're the two people with the best ideas," says Lindenmeyer. "Humility is key," adds McHugh. "You're going to look dumb sometimes -- ask the question anyway. It's a fun process."
The pair bring another millenial-generation asset to the table: An insistence on finally holding the restaurant industry to the same work environment standards as others. "We will offer our employees health care. Bus passes. We want to take care of them. Our employees are invaluable, and we need to ask, 'How do you stop the turnover rate before it happens?'" says McHugh. Lindenmeyer adds, "We've been friends for 12 years and we fight more than anyone we know, because we're not afraid of hurting each others' feelings. We speak openly. But this is something we've never wavered on, in the three years of planning this endeavor. We want to help the people who work with us do what they love."
In the spirit of acknowledging the value of their employees and giving back to Madison's community, Lindenmeyer and McHugh plan to acquire many of their ingredients from local farms. They've visited several while sourcing their menu, and plan on bringing their employees on farm visits so they'll be a part of the process too. "I want to see how the farms make their product, how they treat their people. Then I want our employees to experience that," says Lindenmeyer. They'll feel empowered, and the customers benefit from that knowledge."
Short Stack hopes to be located downtown or near the UW campus; the team is working on finalizing a location. Keep up-to-date with the restaurant's planning through its Facebook page.