After sitting empty for five months, there is activity in the former Mad City Frites location on State Street.
Two friends from Taiwan, who have known each other since middle school, are opening Taiwan Little Eats at 320 State St., and hope to have their grand opening on Oct. 20, said Kai Cheng, who will be the chef.
Cheng recently came to Madison from New York, where he was a sushi chef, at the urging of his old friend, Min-Hsiung Lin, a Chinese circus performer, who goes by the name "Seven," and moved to Madison last year with his wife of two years, Christine Welch.
"Our idea was to bring the taste of home to Madison because there is basically no other place where they can get it," said Welch, a doctoral candidate in Chinese literature at UW-Madison, who met her husband in Taipei, where she went to get her master's degree in Chinese literature.
Seven went to school for theatrical lighting design, and for 10 years has been involved with Formosa Circus Arts, a theatrical circus troupe he help found in Taipei.
"He brought a lot of those influences into the design of the restaurant," said Welch, who helped with the color scheme. "It was kind of a joint effort, but all sort of coming from what we missed about Taiwan."
The troupe, which has toured theater art festivals around the world, is similar to Cirque du Soleil, Welch said. "They do very theatrical, artistic, circus-style performances that are symbolic... They are kind of like pieces of art but using bodies."
Until Seven gets a green card, he's unable to get involved in local Madison dance troupes, Welch said. He's still an investor in Formosa Circus Arts and acts as stage manager when they tour the U.S.
Seven (numbers are common nicknames in Chinese) and a friend opened a restaurant in Taiwan, so he has a restaurant background. Eventually, he'd like to combine his interest in restaurants and dance and hold some performances in the 1,300-square-foot space, Welch said.
Meanwhile, Cheng recently became a U.S. citizen and moved to Madison a couple of months ago to start the restaurant with Seven. The men have another partner, I-Min Lin, who owns a tea restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown. He's the importer of the tea leaves and the bubble tea materials from Taiwan.
Taiwan Little Eats will serve brewed tea, milk tea and bubble tea, which was invented in Taiwan and is popular in the U.S. "They are very proud that they have the best bubble tea," Welch said.
The restaurant will also feature the kind of Taiwanese street food sold from carts in the country's night markets.
"Because it's easy to make fried food, a lot of them sell fried food from the carts, but also some soups and noodles," Welch said.
Taiwanese fried chicken is different from American versions because of the mixture of spices that are usually passed along in secret, she said.
Taiwan Little Eats will feature popcorn chicken and fried chicken cutlets, as well as unique sausages, braised pork over rice, and tempura fish. The full menu can be found at taiwan-little-eats.github.io/little-eats.
"It's all really good," Welch said, "and I was so happy when Kai came from New York because I could finally have Taiwanese food again."