Liliana’s closing permanently, owner to open two new concepts in same building

David Heide closing flagship Fitchburg restaurant that opened 15 years ago, but plans to open Ollie's and St. Charles Station in same space.
Jambalaya from Liliana's
Photo by Fatoumata Ceesay
Jambalaya from Liliana's

Madison chef and restaurant owner David Heide announced today that Liliana’s — the flagship restaurant he opened 15 years ago in Fitchburg — will permanently close its dining room on June 15. There are many reasons for the decision, but Heide starts with one that’s the most personal: The restaurant is named after his first child, who has since transitioned, is nonbinary using they/them pronouns and no longer goes by that name.

“My shirt has their dead name on it. My restaurant has their dead name on it. I care much more about them than I give a crap about a brand,” says Heide.

There’s another big reason for the decision: Heide says the restaurant industry, post-COVID-19 eating habits and surrounding community have all changed, so he’s making way for two new concepts in the same building at 2951 Triverton Pike Drive in Fitchburg: Ollie’s and St. Charles Station.

Dave Heide in his empty restaurant, Liliana's

Dave Heide at Liliana’s in 2020 (Photo by Romulo Ueda)

Heide says he already has city of Fitchburg approval for construction plans to remodel the building into two separate spaces with separate entrances and a shared kitchen space. Ollie’s will feature accessible, farm-to-table food such as pizzas, burgers and Mediterranean food, and the bar will bring back the same kind of cocktails formerly served at Charlie’s on Main, Heide’s second but now-closed restaurant. That venture opened in Oregon in 2015 but closed permanently in October 2020.

St. Charles Station will take over the dining room and west-side patio space of the former Liliana’s. St. Charles Station will be a sit-down fine dining New Orleans restaurant, which Heide says will bring back all that was great about Liliana’s, but in an updated way.

“The neighborhood has changed a lot since I opened 15 years ago on my kiddo’s first birthday,” Heide says about Liliana’s. “Then, the average age was my parents’ age. Now, younger, new families are moving in. You have to keep changing and reinventing yourself, or else you’ll fade away.”

Heide says its become more and more difficult to do what he really wants as a chef, which is farm-to-table cuisine. His hope with these two ventures is to get back to that. He plans to grow product including his own vegetables around the building, and says he’s excited to work with local farmers and change the menu weekly following Wisconsin seasonality.

Liliana’s was one of the area’s few New Orleans-style restaurants, offering dishes such as gumbo, po’boy sandwiches, creole scampi, red beans and rice, jambalaya and beignets. It was initially fine dining when he first opened in 2007, Heide says.

“But after that, in 2009 the recession hit, and we had to add things to our menu like cheese curds, wings and sandwiches,” he says.


Liliana’s dining room at 2951 Triverton Pike Drive, Fitchburg

Over the years, the 178-seat restaurant became too fancy to be a burger place but not elegant enough for celebratory anniversaries, Heide says. The restaurant, which was known for its gluten-free and vegan options, was one of the last area restaurants to reopen after COVID-19 in mid-summer 2021 to make sure every staff member felt safe to come back.

Heide says Liliana’s at one point was making $1.3 million in sales pre-COVID-19, but now it’s about half of that. Pre-COVID-19, less than 1% of sales were through carryout, but now it’s about 30% to 40% of Liliana’s business. “My cooking style isn’t perfect for takeout,” Heide says, who notes that Liliana’s patio seating, takeout options and wedding catering will remain available until Ollie’s opens, which Heide expects will happen in fall 2022. Heide says St. Charles Station will open after that, which may be the end of 2022 or early 2023, once the Findorff construction is complete. The west-side patio will transform into St. Charles Station’s lounge-y entryway.

Heide’s other current venture is Little John’s, a food insecurity catering nonprofit and soon-to-be pay-what-you-can concept operating temporarily out of the Verona Athletic Center at 411 Prairie Heights Drive, Verona. Little John’s has raised $3.8 million of its $10 million capital campaign to open its own location at 5302 Verona Road in Fitchburg, where they’ve already signed a lease.

Currently, Little John’s is making 10,000 meals a week, and Heide says that will jump to 200,000 meals a week once the operation sets up shop in the new building. The nonprofit has experienced incredible growth: a year and a half ago, Heide had one and a half employees; today, he has 60 employees who all make $20 an hour or more with full benefits. Little John’s has rescued 200 tons of food from grocery stories and creates breakfast and lunch meals for three schools.

With the addition of Ollie’s and St. Charles Station, Heide will once again have three restaurants named after all three of his children, Ollie, Charlie and John. (St. Charles is also the name of one of New Orleans’ oldest and most notable streetcar lines, so the name doubles as a nod to Heide’s enduring New Orleans-style cuisine.)

Heide is thrilled to honor his kids in this way, and that although it’s sad to say goodbye to Liliana’s, his first restaurant, he says it feels similar to the kind of mourning period a parent goes through when they realize their child will never be that 2-year-old again, but they’re so happy to have watched their child grow into who they are now.

“All the things and people we love, they’re not going anywhere,” Heide says.

Related: Little John’s uses a pay-what-you-can structure to help those facing food insecurity

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