Green Owl Café has been Madison’s only vegetarian and vegan restaurant since 2009. The café appeals to everyone, including meat eaters and others who want more plant-based food in their diets. Simply put, they provide vegetarian cuisine for people who love food.
Popular from the start, Green Owl Café was voted by Isthmus readers in 2010 to be Madison’s Best New Restaurant. In 2017, the café received recognition as Wisconsin’s Best Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant by Food & Wine magazine.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are expanding, with a lot of crossover as some people who started as vegetarians move to a vegan lifestyle—omitting any animal products from their diets. As people’s preferences change, they’ll always find something to enjoy on the menu.
Since each recipe is created to be the star of the plant-based menu, Green Owl Café rises to the level of beyond the ordinary to be a place where meat eaters and people with many different types of diets enjoy eating together. The interesting and delicious meat-free dishes at Green Owl Café have earned their reputations as vegetarian/vegan comfort food. Even the cinnamon rolls, pastries, and desserts, such as coconut cream pie, cheesecake, and lava cake, are made vegan. Whether it’s on the breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu, the appetizers, entrees, salads, and soup and sandwich menu ingredients are locally sourced to support local farmers and food producers.
In 2018, owner Jennie Capellaro announced she planned to sell the café. She’d owned the popular 2,000-square-foot, 50-seat café, located at 1970 Atwood Avenue in Schenk’s Corners on Madison’s near-east side, since 2009. She wanted to take a break while she figured out what she wanted to pursue next in life, but wasn’t in a hurry to sell. Since she had gone to school to be a lawyer before opening the café, she had a few stipulations in mind to preserve the restaurant brand she had built from scratch. As part of the sale, the café had to keep the same name, stay a vegetarian restaurant, and the new owner needed to be the right fit. Little did she know she had been training the new owner for years. Longtime employee Erick Fruehling kicked around the opportunity for nearly a year before approaching Jennie with his offer to buy the café.
The passion to own Green Owl Café was ignited for Erick when he started working at the café in 2013 while he was a University of Wisconsin–Madison student. “When Jennie announced she wanted to sell the café, it started me to think about owning it,” says Erick. “After all, I had done everything else at the café, working my way up from dish washer to prep cook, line cook, and then kitchen manager. I’m a foodie who loves multiple cuisines, going out to eat, and cooking and grilling for family and friends. I’ve played in punk-rock bands around town, and making food to enjoy together was integral before and after shows. I worked at a few other restaurants that broadened my experience and reinforced my interest in continuing to cook great vegetarian and vegan food at Green Owl. Owning it seemed to be just the right fit for me and Jennie.”
Jennie accepted Erick’s offer, and since he was a new entrepreneur, she became his mentor for the next year. He already was a good vegetarian cook, so Jennie worked side by side with him so he could learn the financial aspect of the restaurant, such as bookkeeping, managing costs, and turning a profit. He applied for a loan and then turned to Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) for resources and expert advice to help him manage all aspects of the business and guide the growth of the café. WWBIC provides quality business and financial capability education and one-on-one technical business assistance to entrepreneurs to help them put their dream in motion.
Erick signed the papers November 25, 2019, to purchase Green Owl Café. “I love the idea of owning a restaurant with an established brand,” says Erick. “The current staff and former co-workers have been very supportive. They loved Jennie, and are relieved that the new ownership came from one of their own. I’ll be in the kitchen as much as possible, and a former co-worker has come back to manage the kitchen for me. It’s a great team that will keep the restaurant as everyone’s favorite place for great vegetarian and vegan food for a long time to come.”
I spoke with Erick the day after he took over ownership and asked what changes he envisioned in the next year. “I’ll continue offering the favorite tried-and-true signature recipes our customers have loved for years. I’ve added new seasonal menu options to allow me to try new dishes on a regular basis and keep the menu fresh and interesting for diners. While the café has always sourced food locally, I am looking forward to the opening of the new Madison Public Market near the end of 2021 so I have better Wisconsin-cold-weather access to fresh produce. It’s very time consuming to source food, so having the market within walking distance to the café could simplify this process for me.
“I love the café’s comfortable atmosphere, and anticipate only small changes to the décor that reflect my taste. With my past involvement in Madison’s music scene, I’m excited to see how I can merge my interest in music with the café to bring in local music artists to enhance the dining experience.”
To try out the menu and discover your favorite plant-based recipes at Green Owl Café, stop by Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.—until 10:00 p.m. during patio season. Sunday brunch is available from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Closed Monday. The café has always enjoyed a robust carryout business for people working at nearby businesses. Delivery is available through DoorDash.
Lauri Lee is a culinary herb guru and food writer living in Madison.
Green Owl Café
1970 Atwood Avenue
Madison, WI 53704