If you really want to show love this Valentine’s Day weekend, order takeout from a locally-owned Madison restaurant

FITCHBURG, Wis. — Chef Dave Heide has two dates that typically carry his New Orleans-style restaurant, Liliana’s, through the winter months: Valentine’s Day and Fat Tuesday.

Mardi Gras is typically Liliana’s biggest money-maker of the year, followed closely by February 14.

“Well, in an unfortunate twist of fate, they are two days apart this year,” Heide posted this week, to his thousands of Facebook followers. “Not only will both of these amazing days be delicious, but they are also really needed for the survival of Liliana’s.”

This year, many of Heide’s regular customers are choosing one or the other, ordering out for either Valentine’s Day or Fat Tuesday.

“We still really love and appreciate the support,” Heide told News 3. “But it’s really hard losing a big percentage of our guests just because the holidays are only a few days apart.”

While many local restaurants have set up GoFundMe pages to make it through the slower winter months, Heide is taking a different approach.

“The thing that I would ask anyone who wants to support restaurants is this: Don’t buy gift cards,” he said. “Don’t worry about that. Come now and buy takeout from a fine dining restaurant.”

The loss of another cash-cow holiday is yet another blow for the already cash-strapped dining industry as a whole. A National Restaurant Association survey at the end of 2020 found 17% of United States restaurants have closed permanently during the pandemic, more than 100,000 in total.

Another finding: the majority of restaurants that closed were not brand-new businesses. On average, they’d been around for 16 years. Heide’s Fitchburg restaurant is 14-years-old.

“We try to keep an optimistic outlook,” Heide said, of Liliana’s future. “But there isn’t a fine dining chef in Madison that’s doing okay right now.”

Heide and his staff have been working 80-hour weeks, hoping their hard work now will pay off in the future. Heide understands the current ‘to-go’ dining experience Liliana’s offers isn’t the same. But for anyone able to afford ordering out, Heide asks his customers to consider making fine dining to-go orders part of their routines.

“You’re going to want to come back to us to celebrate your birthdays and anniversaries. You’re going to want to come to us when you want us to donate to your kid’s football team. You’re going to want to come to us when it’s your non-profit that’s holding a gala and you want to showcase one of the best chefs in Madison,” he said.
“As much as I love a good drive-thru fast food, and I really do love Culver’s, they’re also doing great,” Heide added. “So maybe instead of going to Culver’s five times a month, go to them four times and pick a fine dining restaurant for the other time.”

At Liliana’s, good business also supports the community. Heide takes the money typically used for marketing, and instead, invests it back into the Madison area in non-profits like the United Way of Dane County and the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.

He also operates a pay-it-forward soup program out of his kitchen. Anyone can receive a bowl of soup for free, no questions asked.

“For me, food is always an expression of love,” Heide said. “I pass my love through to people via the food I make. And it’s always been really important to me that the love we give to people is to everyone, no matter what.”

If you’re interested in ordering from Liliana’s this holiday weekend, you can purchase the restaurant’s ‘Valentine’s Dinner To Go’ for pickup Saturday, Feb. 13 from Noon-8 p.m. here.

And click here for Heide’s ‘Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday’ feast, available Tuesday, Feb. 16, from 3-8 p.m.

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