“It wasn’t easy before, and it’s harder now, but I don’t have quit in me.
I’m going to do this until I drop.”
– Chef Evan Dannells
Even with nearly 25 years of restaurant experience, opening Cadre Restaurant on University Avenue was certainly not easy for owner Chef Evan Dannells in late 2019. Temporarily closing only four months later due to the pandemic was harder.
Up until that point, Cadre had seen success serving up French-inspired cuisine and heavily utilizing local and seasonal Wisconsin ingredients. Classics, like his tender beef bourguignon, were featured alongside chèvre cheese curds in this French-Wisco restaurant. These dishes were complemented by a menu of classic, yet never dull, cocktails.
There are few kitchen roles Chef Evan has not filled in his lifetime, from dishwashing in a college cafeteria to sous chef at L’Etoile to executive chef of both Merchant and Lucille. When referring to his years in the food industry, Chef Evan says, “I just love it … food to me has always been the centerpiece of all of the important moments of your life.” Being in the restaurant industry allows Chef Evan to be a part of the celebrations in our lives. From holidays to anniversaries, we celebrate with food, and often we celebrate with food at a restaurant.
This love of food and the celebration around it is what inspires Chef Evan and his team at Cadre to keep pushing forward despite the global health crisis, which has left restaurants like Cadre nearly devastated. Though they continue to safely serve delicious meals to their small, yet dedicated, group of customers, Cadre is thinking more innovatively as they look at a future with a changing food landscape. While change can be difficult, Chef Evan recognizes that the strength of local restaurants compared to corporate chains is their ability to be flexible and adapt at a moment’s notice.
One such opportunity happened in early March 2020, when Tommy Stauffer, co-owner of organic vegetable farm Vitruvian, came into the restaurant for one of the last brunches before the temporary shutdown. “It just started because Tommy said, ‘I have a crap ton of mushrooms. Can you help me salvage this?’” says Chef Evan.
Vitruvian, whose business model had centered on wholesale of vegetables and mushrooms to Madison-area restaurants and grocery stores, now found themselves with a surplus of produce as restaurant business essentially slowed to a halt. On that day in early March, the McFarland farm had hundreds of pounds of oyster and shiitake mushrooms with no home.
What started as a brunch-time conversation between chef and farmer grew into a partnership with Chef Evan using Vitruvian and other locally grown produce to create one-of-a-kind products, now available through Vitruvian’s new online store.
Chef Evan was impressed by Vitruvian co-owners Tommy Stauffer and Shawn Kuhn and their ability to pivot their business model so quickly. They had been one of the first amongst farms and farmers’ markets in the Madison area to start an online farm store with home delivery and contact-free pickup. Early success of the Vitruvian online store led to Tommy and Shawn reaching out to other local farms, business owners, and restaurants like Cadre. Their goal was to expand the variety of goods available through the online store as well as support local businesses growing and creating some of the area’s highest-quality products.
Early on, most of the Cadre products sold through the online farm store featured Vitruvian mushrooms. Mushroom stocks, soups, and dips were an immediate hit with customers, and it was soon clear they had an appetite for more. Every few weeks from then on, you could find new featured products from Cadre which could be delivered straight to your doorstep.
Highlights include tangy sweet pepper vinaigrette, creamy slabs of roasted garlic and parsley compound butter, a refreshing cucumber gazpacho inspired by Chef Evan’s mother, and rich red pesto made with dried Vitruvian heirloom tomatoes. One of the hottest items is a bit of a surprise for Vitruvian and Chef Evan—a bold tzatziki sauce. However, what sells best is whatever new items come out of the Cadre kitchen. Loyal Vitruvian customers will consistently fill their online carts with multiples of whatever Chef Evan is dishing up. “It’s what kept the lights on for three or four months, and it’s still, on a good week, 25 percent of our revenue,” says Chef Evan.
Chef Evan sees partnerships like these as part of the future of restaurants and food, a “closing of the circle” when it comes to local food. Where before it was a straight line of food, from farmer to chef to consumer, now, consumers enjoy local food in a variety of ways. They can dine at a farm-to-table restaurant, purchase directly from a local farm, or enjoy products created by a chef using local ingredients sold through the farm.
What Chef Evan and the farmers of Vitruvian are undertaking in closing the food circle has certainly not been easy, yet they’re experiencing so much joy in working together to create new, delicious products. While there may not be the large celebratory meals happening at Cadre at the moment, Chef Evan is still helping us celebrate with food, though it may be around our own dinner tables. “Because of what we did, I see it,” says Chef Evan. “I see a silver lining, and I see a future that I don’t know that I saw before. And I like it, and I want to grow with it. And I think it will probably end up with Cadre turning into something that I hadn’t intended before but might be very good.”
Cadre is now back open with more-limited service and take-out hours and the same high-quality, farm-to-table offerings as before. They also continue to develop new products for Vitruvian and their customers.
For more information on Vitruvian, read their article in this issue.
Marissa DeGroot is a freelance writer and always down for yummy food, good company, and a great story.
2540 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53705