After 42 years of business, popular deli and ice cream parlor Ella’s Deli announced today that it is closing. The restaurant was well known for its great food, wide selection of ice cream treats, the retro contraptions that lined the ceiling, and the carousel outside.
Here’s everything you need to know.
1. The Restaurant Will Close Down Unless Someone Buys It
Ella’s Deli announced on their Facebook Page on January 3, 2018 that they will be closing at their current location at 2902 E. Washington Ave. in Madison, Wisconsin. Their last day of business is around January 21st.
“Thank you again for allowing us to be a part of this community by including us in so many moments in your lives, from celebrating birthdays, to first dates, to just enjoying family dinners. We are forever grateful for your support.”
You can see the full statement below:
The comment section of the post is filled with people expressing their sadness over the closing of the restaurant.
Owners Ken and Judy Balkin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it has been difficult to keep the restaurant going in the competitive dining environment in Madison. They also told them that it’s not easy to find qualified staff and to pay a living wage.
The restaurant will close down unless someone was willing to buy the restaurant. According to the Facebook post, they hope that the restaurant will be under new ownership in a new space and a “new and exciting direction.” Ken Balkin said that they were “optimistic someone in the community or from around the state will want to carry on the tradition here.”
The Restaurant Was Established in the 1960s
According to the restaurant’s website, Ella Hirschfeld owned and operated a deli and restaurant on State Street in Madison in the 1960s. The establishment provided the Jewish community and others with kosher products over the counter as well as a restaurant for about a dozen tables.
In the mid 1960s, Ken and Judy Balkin got rid of the grocery section of the restaurant and expanded it into a full kosher style deli and restaurant offering catering and a full menu complete with a separate dessert menu.
An additional location on East Washington Avenue opened in 1976 thanks to the support of the Madison community, once again expanding to provide entertainment experiences such as birthday parties. The original location eventually closed.
3. Patrons Love the Gizmos, Ice Cream, and Carousel
The restaurant features a restored 1927 C.W. Parker Carry Us All Carousel in front of the restaurant. According to the website, it’s one of less than 75 known original carousels in the country. It was originally built in Leavenworth, Kansas and operated in a park in North Tonawonda, New York, for 20 years. It was dismantled, sold, and sent to storage after the park’s closing, causing damage due to moisture and heat. It took months for the restaurant to repair the carousel.
Inside the restaurant is a menagerie of animated displays handmade by the owners, employees, and local Madison artists according to the website. Characters like Bart Simpson, Spongebob Squarepants, and Superman can be seen flying across the ceiling on tracks. Tables contain collectibles like old baseball cards and origami with some even have interactive parts.
You can’t forget the selection of kosher foods and desserts. From Matzo Ball Chicken Soup and French Fried Dill Pickles to strawberry slushies with cotton candy and old fashioned banana splits, the menu had everyone covered.
4. It’s Won Awards
The website’s homepage proudly states that it was voted Madison’s “Best Place to Take Kids” and “Best Deli” for over 20 years.
The menu section of the site contains a quote from Madison Magazine from February 2005. “After 28 years, Ella’s is foremost all about food – casual dining blessedly free from the cookie-cutter conformity of fast-food franchises,” said the publication. “The lengthy menu is (literally) a litany, from cabbage soup to nut-topped sundaes and the #1, a grilled pound cake hot fudge sundae, is a Madison culinary icon.”
The About Us section contains a quote from Isthmus Magazine. “If the children of Madison wrote the history books, the year 1976 would certainly warrant a chapter of its own, right along with 1066, 1492, and 1776. That was the year that Ella’s Deli opened on East Washington Ave,” said the publication. “Ella’s is without the slightest doubt the favorite restaurant of Madison’s children.”
Executive vice president of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau Diane Morganthaler told Wisconsin State Journal that the restaurant was a special place for both the community and visitors.
“The Balkins created a whimsical world that put smiles on the faces of generations of children who rode the carousel outside, marveled at the myriad toys inside, and couldn’t eat their dinner fast enough to get to what they really wanted — an ice cream masterpiece.”
5. It Is Currently On Sale But Was Reportedly Put on Sale Seven Months Ago
According to a listing on Property Drive, the 7,167 square foot building on the one acre property is valued at $1,200,000. The descriptions says that the restaurant is being put on the market for the first time in 41+ years as the owners are ready to retire.
The Wisconsin State Journal pointed to a listing by Oakbrook Corporation that the sale also includes a three-unit rental property next door at 2912 E. Johnson St. It is unknown if the carousel outside the restaurant is part of the sale.
The publication reported that news leaked out in May 2017 that the restaurant was put on sale. At the time, the restaurant reassured people on Facebook that the restaurant was not closing and that the owners were simply exploring different opportunities for the future.
Ken Balkin told the publication that anyone interested in Ella’s should contact him.
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