Meet Your Good Neighbor Front Porch Series: Longtable Beer Cafe
Longtable Beer Cafe is named after its expansive communal tables, which were crafted with reclaimed barn wood from New Glarus. The long tables anchor this downtown Middleton establishment, which is a cafe and restaurant, a bottle shop and a tasting room.
It’s a place where people gather to share great food, drinks and laughs, and it’s a place that’s built around community.
“First and foremost, the community is what we are and what we do,” said Andrea Van Nest, who co-owns the cafe with her husband Matt. “It makes us who we are.”
So when the pandemic hit, the cafe faced a challenge: how to keep this community alive?
Both Van Nests have an extensive business background — Andrea has a marketing research consulting business and they also own a successful Madison restaurant, Brasserie V. They found some solutions that not only kept Longtable running through some difficult months, but also helped the greater Middleton community.
First, they launched an online ordering system so customers could easily place carryout orders. When winter approached, they added firepit tables to the patio so people could safely enjoy Longtable’s food outside on cool days.
“Throughout all of it, our customers stayed supportive,” Andrea said. “The firepit tables were busy all winter long, which was awesome.”
Longtable also began holding virtual food and beer tasting events — participants picked up kits at the restaurant, then gathered together online for events that even included a brewmaster presenting live from Belgium.
“We could never have done that beer tasting had it not been for what was going on,” Van Nest said. “We wouldn’t have thought to do it.”
Longtable also launched an effort to help people in need. Partnering with Middleton Outreach Ministry, it created a Community Table Fund to provide free meals to the hungry. Longtable collected donations from the public and worked with its network of purveyors to obtain high-quality proteins to produce meals, using Longtable’s kitchen and staff.
The restaurant has provided assistance to many people in the Middleton area.
“Over 300 people a week,” Van Nest said. “By taking donations, we could, in turn, feed the community and help keep our farm partners going by purchasing food and help keep our staff going by having work for them to do to. Seeing it all come together was great.”
Van Nest said the original concept of the cafe was inspired by places she and her husband encountered during past travels. Matt has a passion for Belgian beer and Andrea once worked in France and “loves all things French.”
The cafe brought these inspirations together when it opened in 2017. The cafe features 12 curated beers on tap as well as an extensive selection of chilled bottles. Its food menu includes burgers and sandwiches made with locally sourced ingredients, entrees like buttermilk fried chicken and baked cod, and double-fried Belgian-style frites.
The restaurant is open for in-person dining and on nice days, its expansive doors are open, letting a light breeze drift through the cafe.
On one recent afternoon, customers savored a delicious spring sun with their food and drinks on the Longtable patio. Working inside at the bar, Van Nest said that she and her husband sometimes have to take a moment in their hectic lives to stop and reflect on what they’ve accomplished and learned.
“We’ve learned about our resilience, having a positive attitude, and creativity,” she said. “I think we learned that this notion of community, which is what Longtable is grounded in, is not about a physical place. We were able to find community and stay connected to the community even if we couldn’t be together.”
About Longtable Beer Cafe
7545 Hubbard Ave, Middleton, WI 53562
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m; Thursday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.