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Former Mermaid Cafe

MintMark, 1929 Winnebago St., in the former Mermaid Cafe spot, will be open for dinner Monday through Saturday and will serve late-night snacks and drinks from 10 p.m. until bar time.

Robin Room owner Chad Vogel and a group of partners have turned the former Mermaid Cafe on Winnebago Street into a restaurant, bar and coffee shop called MintMark. 

One of the original partners bowed out, and now Gwen and Kyle Johnson of Johnson Public House and Kin-Kin Coffee have stepped in, taking a 25 percent ownership stake and turning the business into a coffee shop weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Gwen Johnson said.

There will be pastries, biscuits and scones during those hours to start, but the Johnsons hope to eventually add more extensive food choices through MintMark Chef Sean Pharr.

MintMark is scheduled to open early Monday for coffee service, Vogel said. Dinner and bar service will start the following Monday (Dec. 18). The restaurant's dinner hours will be Monday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with late-night snacks and drinks from 10 p.m. until bar time.

The restaurant, 1929 Winnebago St., doesn't have its exterior sign up yet, but Vogel hopes that will come by spring. 

Vogel's other partners in MintMark are Pharr and Travis Knight. The group bought the building from Lisa Jacobson, who had run Mermaid Cafe in the spot for 12 years.

Pharr has worked in a number of well-known Chicago restaurants and was most recently executive chef at Capitol ChopHouse next to the Hilton Madison hotel in Madison. 

In Chicago, he was executive chef at The Bristol and chef de cuisine at NoMI. Originally from New London, Pharr began his career at Harvest on the Capitol Square.

MintMark's menu will be comprised of “seasonal, produce-forward plates to share," Vogel said.  

Tom Cranley, who was an original partner in the Roman Candle, was involved in the project at first, but stepped aside. The Johnsons took ownership last month, after being approached by Vogel, whose Robin Room is near their Johnson Public House coffee shop.

Vogel opened the Robin Room, a popular cocktail bar on Johnson Street, almost two years ago. He also owns the “Barmadillo,” a movable cocktail bar in a 1950s silver Airstream trailer, which he brings to parties, festivals and other events.

At 1,300 square feet, the new place is slightly bigger than the Robin Room, which is just over 1,000. It will seat between 40 and 50 people.

Gwen Johnson said she and Kyle had already worked out an arrangement where they were going to be MintMark's coffee provider and open the restaurant in the mornings to sell coffee. Now they are partners in the entire business.

"Chad has a really amazing bar program -- Chad and Travis -- and Sean is an amazing chef," Johnson said. "And I feel like having specialty coffee prepared well just goes along with the space. It will be early morning until late evening, just serving really high-quality craft items."

For nearly a year, the Johnsons ran the former A-OK coffeehouse in the Robinia project on East Washington Avenue. MintMark doesn't necessarily pick up where A-OK left off, Johnson said.

"We weren't really looking to fulfill that void, but this is a project that we were really excited about, so when Chad approached us, we were all in."

The space was a coin shop years ago and the name MintMark is a play on that. A mintmark is a mark on a coin referring to where it was minted.

“Example: you will see a small letter on the heads side of a quarter (D,P etc),” Vogel wrote in a text.

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.