Opening a restaurant is often an overwhelming, but exciting venture. You get to flex your creative muscle building the menu. You’re taking on a huge risk. You get to share your love of cooking with others. You don’t have time to enjoy your own cooking. But what about purchasing a restaurant with a legacy? Now you’re adding on this layer of being true to what the restaurant was—trying to attract new customers while not losing those who’ve come to love it over the decades.
When siblings Anthony Rineer and Karima Berkani purchased Teddywedgers from Raymond Johnson, longtime employee who took over when the original owner, Miles Allen, passed, they immediately felt the enormity of what they were taking on. “The fact that it’s not dine-in made it seem manageable,” says Karima. “It seemed like a good first restaurant to own. Of course, once you actually sign the papers and you get into it, you realize everything is a lot more complicated than you thought.”
The first hurdle involved making the same pasty pastry people have come to love. With a strong culinary background, it shouldn’t be a problem for Anthony, right? But, as Karima says, “There were no recipes; we learned by doing. A lot of it was very intuitive cooking that the previous owner was doing. It was just a lot of very early morning cooking side by side with Raymond.”
After weeks of working with Raymond and pretty much having the recipe figured out, the purist in Anthony took the opportunity to go back to the way Miles had done things in 1976. Big pasty pies weighing somewhere in the realm of a pound and a half. Raymond had made the pies smaller for the sake of consumer convenience, but when it comes to tradition, there’s something to the adage that sometimes you have to go back to go forward.
“We preserved the classic parts of the menu,” says Karima. “With a few of the recipes, we kind of tried to reinvent them to be how they originally were. Cutting the potatoes slightly bigger to give it more of a homemade feel. I have to say that my brother really elevated the menu. Instead of using canned or frozen vegetables, he started buying fresh. We started sourcing from Wisconsin farmers. Instead of buying rotisserie or already-cooked chicken, my brother marinates and bakes all the chicken on the bones for the chicken pot pies. Really elevated the taste and made them healthier.”
Other things that were brought back to Teddywedgers include chocolate chip cookies, now made by Anthony and Karima’s mother, Nina. “It was a natural fit for her to do the sweet baking with Wisconsin ingredients, like in our cranberry coffee cake. Teddywedgers has always had really good chocolate chip cookies, but now they’re homemade with real butter and organic flour. Around Thanksgiving, mom usually bakes up apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies and chocolate bonbons for Valentine’s Day— things like that depending on the season.”
It’s really important to get it all just right because, as Karima has learned, Teddywedgers has international appeal. She recalls attending a workshop in South Africa for her job in marketing with Uber and meeting someone who went to university in Texas. The individual said they had a roommate who used to get these pocket pastries in Madison but couldn’t remember the name of the place.
“Teddywedgers?” Karima asked.
For all these reasons and more, it’s important to be true to the legacy, but that doesn’t mean Anthony the Purist feels confined to it. There’s quite a wide range of cultural backgrounds in the family, which gives Anthony a bountiful sandbox to play in. “Everywhere you go in the world, everyone has a pocket-based food item,” says Karima. “There’s empanadas, there’s sambusa. In the Middle East, there’s sambousek. Anything that you can stuff into a pocket, every culture has its own take.
“Anthony made a carnitas pasty, which was really good. Eighteen hours slow-cooked pork that he marinated in citrus—super good. My husband is Brazilian, so we have a sweet pie that’s made of goiabada (a guava paste) and cream cheese, which is delicious. Anthony’s made tandoori chicken ones. We made poutine pies in honor of Canada. In honor of our Algerian ties, we’ve made couscous pasties. We’ve done pulled pork and sweet potato. And we’ve also added more vegan options to the menu because our dough is naturally vegan. We don’t use lard or butter in the dough.”
Developing the menu while tethering it to Teddywedgers’ roots strikes the balance needed to keep the signature Madison pasty relevant. Whatever those butterflies were in Anthony and Karima’s stomachs when they bought the place have taken on the form of confidence and delight. It’s one of those things Karima and Anthony always talked about and dreamed of doing. And the way they show just how much fun they’re having comes out in fun nods to Wisconsin traditions and sidekick holidays.
“Every day there’s a special,” says Karima. “Then on Fridays, there’s a fish-based menu, keeping in the Wisconsin tradition of fish fries, so usually there’s a salmon or a tuna option. And on April Fool’s Day, there’s always something on.” For example, this last April Fool’s they did a confetti cake pasty with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
For a lot of locals, when you go to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, you get a Teddywedger. For others, it’s discovering their first pasty. Then there are those who come back and are happy to see the place they went to as kids is still around, traveling hours to relive their childhood. Anthony and Karima call it “a meal fit for a badger,” owning the legacy Miles started almost 46 years ago to the point they’re comfortable setting the course for years to come.
Kyle Jacobson is lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.
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