A new restaurant and community space called Common Ground is getting ready to open where I Love Tacos was in Middleton.
Adrienne Hulburt-Stroud said she'd had her sights set on the space at 2644 Branch St., for a while. The building had long been home to Branch Street Retreat and then the restaurant and bar Cold Fusion. After I Love Tacos, it was briefly Cuco's and then Q-Cos.
"I had been stalking this building for over a year," Hulburt-Stroud said. "So the fact that I finally got it is just crazy."
Since signing her lease on Dec. 1, she's been spending long hours in the building getting the dining room renovated and laying the groundwork. She hopes to open by mid-January.
Her original idea was for a community space, but she knew she needed to have something else to bring people together.
"That's where the food aspect came in," Hulburt-Stroud said. "I thought, what's better at bringing people together than coffee, tea, just a meal? The building is set up perfectly for that with the upstairs being this big, open event space. It's just beautiful."
There are all kinds of ways to use the space, she said. The upstairs can be turned into studio space for yoga or other activities. Then there's a giant, full-sized bar. It also has a small, private lounge or meeting room.
Hulburt-Stroud said she already has dozens of "collaborators" -- people who are going to be hosting events or activities like yoga, writers' groups, book clubs, a knitting club and a history discussion group.
Many of the events will be open to anyone who wants to join. Some will be one-time events, like guided art tutorials, but the community space will also host regular weekly or monthly meetings for various groups. Some events will have a charge, others will be free.
Hulburt-Stroud is looking for ways to bring people together and "find common ground in any sort of way," she said. "It could be over anything."
The space upstairs, with tables, chairs and couches, will be available for birthday parties, weddings, receptions and business meetings, she said.
Common Ground will be a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. "I've been calling it delicious diner meets cozy cafe because it's kind of a hybrid between a diner and a cafe."
Her chef and kitchen manager, Cory Topel, is from Ale Asylum. He started when she signed the lease. They are planning the menu and Hulburt-Stroud said she is looking for a coffee manager, but has already decided to serve coffee from Just Coffee. The beer selection will feature local craft beers.
Topel's wife's family owns Monona Bakery and Eatery and they'll serve baked goods from there.
In terms of fostering community, Hulburt-Stroud started the Madison West Writers Group in 2014 and it has more than 1,000 members. The Wisconsin Writers Association asked her to join their board of directors, which she did in October.
Hulburt-Stroud, who writes poetry and prose, has been hosting events all over Madison and Middleton for three years and has found it hard to find space.
She plans to host poetry slams and storytelling events in addition to the regular open writing discussions and creative writing events she’s been hosting regularly since starting the writers group three years ago.
"I just needed a big, open space to do all sorts of cool stuff," Hulburt-Stroud said. "You can't always get a library meeting room. There's a need for available community space in the area, and Common Ground plans to fill that need."