Mickie's Dairy Bar, operating continuously at the same address since 1947, is one of the oldest restaurants in Madison. If you grew up here, you grew up with Mickie's.
And if you're Shea Thongnuam, son of Mickie's owners Janet and Payow Thongnuam, you grew up in Mickie's. The Thongnuams bought the place 23 years ago this March when Shea, the second of their six children, was three and a half.
They've been running it ever since, serving massive, inexpensive breakfasts to generations of Madisonians who flock to sit in its original 1940s booths and try — just try — to finish its notoriously gargantuan plate of pancakes.
Shea, 26, is one of four Thongnuam kids who currently work at Mickie's. He said the building dates back to the 1920s and that for 12 years in the 1930s and 40s, it was the home of Furst Pharmacy. The pharmacy served fountain drinks, like cherry sodas, much like his family does today.
When Evan Reese and Andrew and Mickie Weidemann started Mickie's in 1947, "it was half grocery, half restaurant," Shea said.
In the 1960s, dozens of people purchased milk for their homes at Mickie's — Shea has heard that it was "the number-two supplier" of milk for families in the city. They had fresh produce and sold beer, too.
"They had one beer on tap, and they sold beer for carry-out," he said.
Mickie's cut back gradually on grocery over the years, and dropped its beer license. That was a selling point for the Thongnuams, who didn't want to own a bar.
Janet and Payow Thongnuam, from Reedsburg and Thailand respectively, met working in the same restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells — he was a cook, she was waiting tables. After some time in Janesville, the family saved up to buy a restaurant.
"They wanted more of a family place," Shea said. "They wanted a place that was already established; there's a lot lower risk than opening your own place from scratch. My mom's brother went to school here and came here as a student … he mentioned it to my parents, and they fell in love with the place."
As new owners, the Thongnuams didn't change much. From the 50s-era menus on the wall (complete with prices in cents, not dollars) to the vintage Wisconsin Badger figures that flank the dining room, the Thongnuams' Mickie's retains the charm and flavor of its history while incorporating newer traditions, like the hot sauce that's available upon request.
"If you made a lot of changes, it wouldn't be Mickie's," Shea said.
Mickie's re-opened on Jan. 6 after the Thongnuams' annual holiday-season hiatus — a 15-day break, the longest they've ever taken. The break started as a way to give the family some time off while the kids were off school, and also to do small remodeling projects, revamp the menu and adjust prices.
This year, they repainted the ladies' room and re-did the menu board. When they opened in the middle of the Midwestern polar vortex, business was typically brisk.
"I was surprised by how many milkshakes we sold yesterday," said Shea on the morning after Madison's second consecutive cold-weather school closing.
Those shakes are a big part of Mickie's appeal, as is its fortuitous stadium-adjacent location. The lines on Badger game days are out the door, and the day after is even busier.
"We try to keep it controlled chaos," Shea said. "We want people to not be afraid of the line. Food comes out in 15 minutes, less time than you probably had to wait for your table."
Managing crowds has been part of the Thongnuams' program of small, well-considered changes.
"For a couple of years, we were just letting people fight over tables," Shea said. "We try not to do that anymore. We pack them in, but we try to make people at least comfortable."
For all the minor changes, Mickie's remains the Madison staple it has been for decades. Janet Thongnuam pointed out a lady Badger cutout that hangs over the women's room. It's Becky Badger, Bucky's forgotten female consort — another vestige of Mickie's roots in the past.
"Bucky and Becky are very old," she says, "But I think she's timeless."
The same could be said about everything at Mickie's, from the delicious breakfasts to the frosty handmade ice-cream drinks: timeless.