What does La Crosse not have, what does the city need…I was introduced to the food hall concept…It was a new idea to me and I really liked it.
We chatted with the fellas of the LAX Food Hall, opening this June, the hall will be a new dining experience that offers a unique chance to try a variety of restaurants under one roof, including a full bar, and a communal dining hall, we chat about what to expect, and dig into this new concept for the area.
La Crosse Local is proud sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival.
Lax Food Hall Transcript
la crosse, food, bar, hall, stalls, people, food trucks, chicago, city, place, communal dining, restaurant, lived, 20s, sign, starting, louis, eat, art deco, called
Amy Gabay 00:01
La Crosse Local is proud to be a sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival brought to you by Ultra Federal Credit Union. We invite you to celebrate music, cuisine, artists, makers, brewers and distillers in the new La Crosse Center Riverside ballroom. Musical entertainment includes Dan Sebranek, Three Grimm, Tugg, the Remainders, Greg Hall and the Wrecking Ball and the Tripping Billies, the nation’s most renowned Dave Matthews tribute band. La Crosse Winter Roots Festival is presented by the La Crosse Center, La Crosse Local, and with special thanks to the Remainders. Find out more information and how to get tickets at lacrosselocal.com. We chatted with the fellas of the Lax Food Hall. Opening this June, the hall will be a new dining experience that offers a unique chance to try a variety of restaurants under one roof, including a full bar and a communal dining hall. We chat about what to expect and dig into this new concept for the area. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website, lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 01:14
And I’m Brent.
Amy Gabay 01:15
And this is La Crosse Local.
Michael Margolis 01:18
My name is Michael Margolis. I was born in St. Louis. I kind of grew up back and forth in St. Louis and Chicago. But I went to high school in St. Louis. So that’s pretty much where I’m from. I’m an architect by trade. But I started a few businesses before like apps and little stuff. Going through college I didn’t take student loans, I just uh, cause I dropped out of high school and got my GED and then went to community college and then really University. So they wouldn’t give me any student loans either, work full time through it. So I worked in the bar industry and restaurant industry in Chicago. And that’s how I was making my monthly payments on school. So I had to worry about getting the grades good enough and then hoping that I had the next month’s thing or the grades didn’t matter. That’s kind of how this industry where I was looking at La Crosse and I just moved here three years ago. And I was like this city is missing a lot of little things that I’m used to coming from Chicago, the food was the first thing I thought of because I was like I cannot get a knish in this city for the life of me. And then I and then being for St. Louis and I was like well, I just want to go eat gizzards then I gotta have gizzards, it’s kind of a country town. And then no, no, no gizzards No, no knishes. And I was like, well, okay, here’s a problem.
Zack Switzer 02:34
My name is Zack Switzer. I’m from Southeast Michigan. So it’s a very suburbs city called Livonia. I graduated in 2018, from Michigan State University. I’m a proud MSU grad. And I actually worked at the dining halls on campus. And it was a concept similar to a food hall that have different not vendors, it was all run by the same place but different like food concepts and different kind of stall like areas where they do that. So that’s kind of how I got into it. But this is my first time really starting a business yourself. So I’m really, really excited about all this, but it’s my-
Michael Margolis 03:09
Excited and terrified back and forth.
Zack Switzer 03:11
Yeah, exactly. Like Michael said, we were kind of thinking about what does La Crosse not have? What does the city need? And I had lived in Milwaukee a few years before this. That’s where I was introduced to the food hall concept. When I lived there, there were two of them there one called Crossroads and of course, the Milwaukee Public Market. And it was a new idea to me and I really liked it so I was well that’s what La Crosse doesn’t have food hall, some other cities around here like Rochester, they already have one. So I thought it was something La Crosse should have as well
Michael Margolis 03:43
And what’s the little tiny city that has one?
Zack Switzer 03:45
Oh uh Decorah, Iowa. A town of only 8,000 has a small food hall as well. There are five stalls live stalls, but we figured well, if a smaller town in Iowa can support one, certainly La Crosse can with two major hospital systems and three colleges, you know.
Michael Margolis 04:03
Everybody in that city must eat there every night.
Zack Switzer 04:06
Brent Hanifl 04:08
You know, I’ve never been to one but I’d go to a lot of farmers markets when I’m traveling. I enjoy that. So I imagine that’s in some ways it kind of comes out of that sort of avenue because there were stalls of ready made food to eat there. What is it, what can people expect? You know, when they show up to something like this, is it a lot of small startups that kind of get their start there, established restaurants?
Michael Margolis 04:30
It’s since the cost of starting a restaurant is so crazy lower going through a food hall. Because you know to start a restaurant, its 250, 350,000 dollars and the food hall you can do it for 8 to 15 grand. I mean, you can spend whatever you want. So if you want to go crazy, you can get up to 30 or 35 or something. But so we picture a lot of startups. We want to have, we’ve got a no compete clause so each stall will be selling different food that doesn’t compete. So it’s not just gonna be like five pizza joints and a hotdog place. It’s a lot of startups, we’ve got one that’s already signed, which is awesome, because our actual campaign starts in March to try to get vendors. And we’ve already got four maybes and one that’s already signed just from me calling contractors to do construction work and then being like, well, my brother knows how to cook real well. And he’s been starting to and, but the concepts kind of coming from the, like death of food trucks, a lot of states, including Wisconsin, the tavern league in Wisconsin, got after the food trucks. And there’s a law saying that if you provide food and drink, you have to provide a bathroom. So they got the state to finally not finally, but I mean, it works for us. So I guess finally, not that I have anything against food trucks, but the food trucks have to supply a bathroom, so you’re only going to start seeing them. And you know, we probably have been seeing them in festivals where they have porta potties. And they have a signed contract saying that the people can use them or parking lots of businesses for lunch where the business sign something saying that all the customers can use the bathroom inside. Or like a factory or something. Yeah, so a lot of like targeting for trying to find these vendors, a lot of them are people that used to have food trucks, but they want to continue that kind of business, but don’t have a way to anymore.
Brent Hanifl 06:21
So with the restaurants, I know you’re starting to start recruiting here soon. Is it something that they sign on for a number of years? Or will it be rotating places coming in?
Michael Margolis 06:31
It’s up to them and how well they do. Pretty much we use a licensed structure so they can do month to month if they don’t want to deal with commitment. They’d be allowed to build a kitchen and that and then move out a month later. But like I said, it’s on their dime.
Zack Switzer 06:47
But yeah, we’re having like, it’s gonna be much more flexible, like a traditional restaurant lease below that usually for five or 10 years are there, gonna be year by year.
Brent Hanifl 06:58
Can you just kind of tell me about your background and just tell you know, you come from these different cities, were kind of identifying foods that aren’t here. More of a personal story of mine. I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a while once I moved back to La Crosse I couldn’t find, I still can’t find a handheld breakfast burrito, so.
Michael Margolis 07:18
Oh, you’re right.
Zack Switzer 07:19
Brent Hanifl 07:19
So like, that’s something that I used to go to three to four times. Maybe wasn’t the best three, four times a week and just get that handheld breakfast burrito. I think it was like six bucks, a cup of coffee.
Michael Margolis 07:30
Yeah I ate knishes for lunch more than I should.
Brent Hanifl 07:33
What other types of food are you going after that people are potentially opted in? Or is there anything you’re hoping will come in?
Michael Margolis 07:40
I’ve got a shortlist of food that I just selfishly want for myself. And I want a kosher style deli, because we really need that here. And I want a soul food place. Because, again, you the best fried chicken in the city is at Kwik Trip. Or at least that I found. But I’ve only it’s only KFC and Kwik Trip and you know we don’t have any like good old fashioned soul food. So that’s my short list is a Jewish deli and a soul food place. Zach’s wants.
Zack Switzer 08:16
Well I wanted pasta, which we already have, so that’s good, because currently there isn’t a pasta place downtown. So there’s something that is needed, in my opinion there’s no Italian food downtown.
Michael Margolis 08:27
Well, my closest that I found was Olive Garden. Yeah, that’s way out by the freeway exit. And it’s Olive Garden. So it’s like right McDonald’s of I mean, no offense Olive Garden. Don’t sue me. But yeah, it’s not like a place you would find in Chicago where it’s a little old Italian woman who works the counter and cooks all the food in front of you.
Zack Switzer 08:47
I would also like to have some Southeast Asian dishes like Thai curries, Thai noodles, fat Ragu and some of that good stuff.
Michael Margolis 08:57
We definitely want to get Hmong players.
Zack Switzer 08:59
Exactly. Yeah, we want to have every group and we want it to represent the community.
Brent Hanifl 09:06
So what has been the response either, you know, I know you guys are on Facebook, you’ve done a little advertising with the pasta place. I see that coming in? What has been the response from talking to people or online?
Michael Margolis 09:17
It has been so much better and bigger than we would have planned for June. We’ve already got people calling us trying to order food. That was today. Yeah. I explained to them like well, sure we could take your order, but you’ll get it June 1st. So it’s kind of a slow delivery time right now. We expected like it to be received pretty well because everybody kind of likes the idea, you know, and the other cities that exists but the reception has been just a lot and it’s just moving off faster than we planned, which is good. I mean, that’s always a good sign when everybody’s on board, and when you tell people about it, like talking to the bank, the banker gets almost more excited than we are about it.
Brent Hanifl 10:07
Yeah, you know, it does seem like an opportunity for local businesses or people that like yourselves want to try something like this, to kind of break that barrier to access to actually start that passion project, you know, with the kind of lower costs of entry. Seems like a bunch of entrepreneurs getting together to kind of lift this place up. It’s pretty exciting. So opening in June?
Michael Margolis 10:30
And the model, we provide like almost everything they had to provide their kitchen equipment, but even like the dishes and the flatware and the glasses, we provide that and we provide the Bosnian and everything and.
Zack Switzer 10:41
Phones, POS system, the advertising, we have all of that.
Michael Margolis 10:46
So it really does open the door for like, somebody that has a passion in it, but it hasn’t been saving up their whole life to be able to jump into it.
Brent Hanifl 10:55
Well, I’m excited for it. I mean, it just seems like a more of a communal. I don’t know if there’s communal dining, but it just seems like a you know, something that’s very community focused and stuff that people haven’t seen here in the area.
Michael Margolis 11:06
Structurally that’s what it is. It’s one big dining hall, and then it has stalls coming off of the sides. And then it has a big old bar, because it’s Wisconsin.
Brent Hanifl 11:18
Wait, there’s gonna be beers, too?
Michael Margolis 11:20
Yeah. Well we’re having a bar.
Brent Hanifl 11:21
Oh, geez, even cooler.
Michael Margolis 11:24
We’re gonna stay open till bar time. So it’ll be the only place downtown that sells liquor and food after 10 o’clock.
Zack Switzer 11:31
Yeah, and this food won’t be fried. It’ll be actually cooked.
Michael Margolis 11:35
And it’s not just going to be fire food, all the places that it’s two floors, and every stall that’s on the same floor as the bar has to sign an agreement that they will stay open till bar time and serve their full menu.
Brent Hanifl 11:49
Wow, this just got even more interesting.
Michael Margolis 11:54
Because that’s what in Chicago, they have a Chicago’s Pizza, which is a delivery tribal style pizza place that delivers till five in the morning. And there the bars are open till five or four and then on Saturdays stay open till five. So I like went through my 20s with you leave the bar and then you can order a big old pizza and eat food you shouldn’t eat, go through that natural process of drunk to hungry.
Zack Switzer 12:17
And you have a lot of experience in the bar industry, right?
Michael Margolis 12:20
Yeah I managed some pretty big name bars over in Chicago. The most famous is probably John Barleycorn right next to Wrigley Field and another one in Lincoln Park. I mean, they have million dollar weekends they were saying.
Brent Hanifl 12:34
So, opening in June. I feel like there’s a lot of chatter going on about it. Where can people find out more? What’s the best avenue for them to follow on?
Michael Margolis 12:44
Our website? It’s right now it’s just a landing page that I made, a fancy landing page. That’s three pages. So if you’re curious on finding out about it, or if you are curious, like wanting to become a vendor that has a page for each of those, and it’s got a description of the concept, one of the pages I just I think it’s titled the obvious question, what is a food hall?
Brent Hanifl 13:08
laxfoodhall.com people check out what’s a food hall, they can also become a vendor and also follow your different social media accounts?
Michael Margolis 13:15
Yeah, yep. Yep. And we’ll be as time goes on, and as I work more and more on the website, it’ll keep getting more and more in depth. I’m doing the website myself, though, so it’s slow. On opening day, we’re gonna have like a, what’s the word I’m looking for, like a black tie Gala. I talked to a guy over at the symphony, he’s gonna send us a little troop. And that’s really just a personal thing of I always wanted to go to one of those. And I’ve never been important enough to get to go on. I’ve worked them in the bar industry. So that’ll be fun. We’re gonna give out invitations for that. That’d be an excuse to wear a tuxedo or a fancy dress. And since the buildings are deco and historical societies, keeping our sign had to be period. And then since with me being an architect, I love art deco. So we’re kind of just going real heavy Art Deco with all of our stuff. We’re going to probably keep that theme for the gala. The little cocktail girls were in similar to the cigar and cigarette girls. I’m thinking Roger Rabbit right here, the Eddie Van Halen.
Zack Switzer 14:19
Very Art Deco, very 1920s 1930s.
Michael Margolis 14:22
And, you know, it’s the 20s again, so.
Brent Hanifl 14:25
It looks like you updated your social media with that. Yeah, that’s cool. I didn’t really associate that with that. But it’s great.
Michael Margolis 14:32
Yeah, it was a shock to me when I was like, it’s the 20s. It’s not like we don’t have to say 2000 anymore. We’re finally out of the teens or you can say 20s or 30s or 40s. Back to like, yeah, so maybe all the funny stuff. We’ll come back and except for the depression part.
Zack Switzer 14:51
Yeah, we take on that stock market crash.
Amy Gabay 14:57
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