A fast casual restaurant from the owners of Harvey House will showcase chef Joe Papach’s fried and rotisserie chicken, plus cocktails on draft and bar snacks. Butterbird, set to open mid-fall at 1134 Regent St., shares a wall with a bike shop about half a mile from Camp Randall.
Shaina Robbins Papach, co-owner of Harvey House, is opening Butterbird with Sean O’Hara and Kaitlin Fischer. O’Hara is currently chef de cuisine at the Harvey House and Fischer is the general manager.
Both O’Hara and Fischer moved to Madison a few years ago to help open the Papaches’ fine dining restaurant in a former depot on West Washington Avenue. In 2021 and 2022 respectively, Esquire magazine and The New York Times named Harvey House among the best new restaurants in the United States.
Butterbird was born, Robbins Papach said, from the desire to give their team more challenges, the opportunities near campus and the interest in doing something more informal.
“We wanted to create something that was more casual, family and student friendly,” she said. “We had started making fried chicken for some of our private events and people were really, really loving it.
“It’s trying to do delicious, restaurant quality food in an environment that is a little bit more flexible,” she said of Butterbird. “You could come several times a week and get a snack or a chicken sandwich, or go home with a rotisserie chicken and some sides for your family.”
Though the menu is still in development, Butterbird will have a rotisserie rotating in the back and is applying for a liquor license. The roughly 7,000-square-foot space, formerly part of Roger Charly’s Budget Bicycle Center mini-empire, has room for 100 or so inside and 40 on a patio outside, plus room for lawn games. (The bike shop is still open next door, just in a smaller space.)
Papach and Robbins Papach worked with Charly on Harvey House — he owns the historic former Milwaukee Road Depot. Much of that team is returning: Home Studios, Brooklyn-based designers, and Supreme Structures worked on Harvey House. They are also working on 1134 Regent.
“It’s an old brick building,” Robbins Papach said. “There was this metal building that was sort of plunked on the back. We’ve taken that part off. We have to extend the space a little bit to increase the kitchen size and add some bathrooms.”
Changes on Regent Street
Robbins Papach grew up on the near west side. She sees an opportunity in how the area is changing, with businesses like Leopold’s Books Bar Caffé bringing a different energy to the street.
“There’s so much growth happening on Regent Street, and it just feels like a really exciting little pocket of the city,” she said. “It’s a walk to Harvey House. So it feels close enough that if there was an emergency, we could run from one to the other.”
The Harvey House team would love if employees worked in both restaurants.
“The concept is more casual than Harvey House (but) hospitality is still super important to us,” Robbins Papach said. “That level of hospitality is still something that we’re going to concentrate on. It’s not going to be fine dining, but we still want people to feel comfortable, that we’re being generous.
“So it feels like a place that you want to return, not just for the food, not just for the space, not just for the hospitality, but for all of those things.”
O’Hara and Papach worked together at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s iconic fine dining restaurant in California. It’s common, especially in the last decade, for classically trained chefs to open fast casual concepts (locally, consider L’Etoile and Graze, RED and Jacknife, and in Milwaukee, Justin Carlisle’s Ardent and Red Light Ramen).
Robbins Papach wouldn’t rule out turning Butterbird into a franchise one day.
“We have ambitious goals for ourselves,” she said. “We also want to make sure that the first one works. … A lot of systems have to be in place to begin with. You can see how that would potentially grow into other things, but it’s really important to us to concentrate on the task at hand and make sure that that is successful.”