James and Tommy

James Juedes, left, and Tommy Gering plan to open an Italian-style deli called Casetta Kitchen and Counter in downtown Madison in February.

A new Italian-style deli called Casetta Kitchen and Counter is set to open downtown in February.

Tommy Gering, 28, and James Juedes, 30, are longtime friends who grew up in the same Wausau neighborhood. Now both in the restaurant business, they plan to open a 40-seat casual spot in the former Bluephies Downtown Deli location at 222 W. Washington Ave.

"Our style (and) our concept is going to be Italian American deli," said Juedes. "But we’re not going to be just Italian. We’ll serve a wide variety of sandwiches, soups and salads."

Gering and Juedes recently started demolition on the 1,500 square foot space, which will have limited wine retail and focus on take out orders. There will be limited dine-in space and heat-and-serve dinners, like lasagna.

Casetta's liquor license application will likely go to the city next month. In the meantime, they're doing pop-ups to build excitement. 

"We've done one pop-up at the Robin Room," said Juedes, who has been a sommelier at L'Etoile. "We'll do some more of those to drive more hype and get a little following if we can."

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Starting in 2011, the casual restaurant at 222 W. Washington St. was Bluephies Downtown Deli. James Juedes and Tommy Gering plan to open Casetta Kitchen and Counter in the space.

Gering trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked in New York for six years in restaurants like Michael White's Ristorante Morini and David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar.

He moved back to Madison last winter and has been cooking at Estrellon. 

Italian cuisine "has always been my favorite food to eat," Gering said. "It’s going to be very fast casual. We're trying to find that niche where it’s fast but ... you can sit down and enjoy a nice meal that's fresh and made to order." 

Juedes attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and apprenticed himself at a winery in Mount Horeb. He later expanded his wine education in Spain, New Zealand and the Wilammette Valley in Oregon. 

As far as retail, "We won’t do food products," Juedes said. "Our big retail aspect will be wine and beer.

"I have a list of producers I love that are very small, farm-to-table producers with small holdings, small vineyards. You see that often in northern Italy, in Burgundy, places like that, even Oregon and California." 

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James Juedes, former sommelier at L’Etoile, is opening a new deli on West Washington Avenue. Casetta Kitchen and Counter would have "take-out dinners, like a pan of lasagna with a bottle of wine with it," Juedes said. "You pop it in the oven, pop the cork and have a nice dinner."

The concept for Casetta Kitchen and Counter draws inspiration from both the Italian immigrant delis in New York City and Mino's Cucina, a neighborhood restaurant owned by Juedes' uncle in Wausau. 

"It’ll be mostly Italian hoagies, and we’ll make our own focaccia bread," Gering said. "We’ll make our own mozzarella. We’re going to try to roast a lot of our own meats."

Sourcing, Juedes said, will be as local as possible.

"We’ll try to use a lot of local farmers and source locally when we can," he said. "There’s so many good producers around town, so many people that are willing to bring stuff to your doorstep. It’s so nice to have that ability."

Hours are still in the works, but will likely focus on breakfast and lunch and extend a little into the evening for take-out dinners or a drink after work. The next pop-up for Casetta Kitchen is likely to be in early December. Follow the deli at @casettakitchen on Instagram for updates. 

This restaurant concept is "something that I’ve been working toward for the last 10 years," Gering said. "It’s always been my dream. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Having a great partner in James — it's been our dream together as well."

Since 2008, Lindsay Christians has been writing about fine arts and food for The Capital Times. She loves eating at the bar, going to the theater, fine wine and good stories. She lives on the east side with her husband, two cats and too many cookbooks.