The Ella’s Deli carousel may whirl again.
Epic Systems Corp. has bought the former Madison restaurant’s historic outdoor carousel and the collection of whimsical art and toys inside that made Ella’s Deli a favorite of children and adults alike before it closed in January after 41 years.
“It’s really good news. It all happened very, very fast,” said Ken Balkin, who owns the Ella’s Deli building and business with his wife, Judy. “Epic Systems has purchased the carousel and the art collection and they’re going to carry it forward into their campus in a real positive way.”
Balkin made most of the decor inside and was responsible for keeping all the moving parts in working order. “The whole collection is going to stay together. So we’re real excited about that,” he said.
Last month, Balkin told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was considering selling some of the contents separately if a buyer didn’t come along soon. His original hope was to keep the restaurant and carousel open in the same location at 2902 E. Washington Ave.
“Ella’s won’t live on in the community in terms of a restaurant, but it’s going to live on in all other forms and we’re very happy about that,” Balkin said Thursday.
Meghan Roh, a spokeswoman for the electronic health records company based in Verona, said Epic started talking to Ella’s Deli about the sale in early June. She and Balkin wouldn’t reveal the purchase price.
Starting June 19, they had a team begin assessing the best way to ensure the safe transport of the famous 1927 carousel and the 250 interior decor items to the Epic campus. The company anticipates it all will be moved by late July.
Epic, which has about 9,400 employees, is still exploring its options on where to put everything, but Roh said the company hopes to ensure the carousel and decor pieces are accessible to visitors and employees.
The carousel will be put back together in working order, but the company is exploring its options when it comes to the details of the carousel’s operation, Roh said.
“Helping to preserve part of this iconic Madison landmark was an easy decision and we look forward to ensuring the carousel and creative collection find a happy home on the Epic campus,” Epic administrator Kara Rettenmund said in a statement.
“We’re grateful to Ken, Judy, and their staff for over four decades of family fun, good food, and priceless memories for all who walked through their doors,” Rettenmund said.
Epic has a history of buying local art, much of which could be described as whimsical, and hundreds of local artists are featured on its campus, Roh said.
Meanwhile, Ella’s building is still being listed by Oakbrook Corp. The sale includes a three-unit rental property next door.
The Balkins are holding an auction to sell the restaurant’s equipment at 10:30 a.m. July 26, with a preview earlier in the day.
Balkin said movers have already taken about one-third of his pieces away, transporting them in a sensitive manner. He said the company is “doing some very strategic planning for the disassembly of the carousel” so that it can be put back together correctly.
Much of the art Epic buys comes from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Art Fair on the Square, and buildings on its campus sport themes including Deep Space, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones.
Balkin said he appreciates the way Epic supports the arts and local artists. He isn’t sure how the company will display his collection, but it’s his understanding that Epic will find a prime spot for the carousel.
“I know that’s the focal point,” he said. “But they bought the rest of the collection and they’ll incorporate it somehow in their themes, I’m sure.”