A new dining option in downtown Antigo promises “healthy food fast,” and it boasts an exceptional atmosphere to boot.
Jenni and Matt Hayek opened The Luncheonette inside their Natural Living store in the 700 block of Superior Street earlier this year as a nod to a clamor from customers to feature alternatives to traditional fast food outlets.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” Jenni Hayek said. “We already specialize in offering natural, local food that is affordable and this is just another extension.”
The Hayeks purchased Natural Living in 2009, and have long wanted to expand into restaurant service, but the timing was never right.
The elements came together in January after some friends of the couple quietly gifted them with a top-of-the-line Espresso machine, one of only four in the state.
“The Espresso machine was a generous, no strings attached gift and contribution to our business and their hometown,” Hayek said, noting that the former Antigo residents wish to remain anonymous. “That catapulted the coffee shop into fruition.”
Add to that, a staff headed by Lynn Jiter, who specializes in gluten-free baked goods, and Barb Rolling, a coffee shop veteran, and the Hayeks had the nucleus of an excellent kitchen crew. Baker Anette White, who nurtures her own varieties of sourdough starters, completed the triad.
“It’s so much fun working for a place that has a philosophy of working with, and for, its community,” Rolling said. “That’s just awesome.”
The Luncheonette is billed as a coffee shop, and those items are front and center on the menu, including a tasty variety of teas, lattes, cappuccinos and espressos, all made using that glitzy red machine. The teas are high-end, but reasonably priced, and the coffees are all made with organic Condor beans and espresso roasted in Wausau.
The second page of the menu features a mix of paninis and soups.
“We wanted to do something that was different and fresh while supporting our local growers,” Hayek said.
Everyday offerings include grilled ham or turkey and cheese, plain cheese, veggies and, for something different, peanut butter and jelly, along with salads and soup of the day. All paninis are created on in-house homemade bread, using gluten-free or natural sourdough.
It’s the daily specials, named for the staff’s mothers and grandmothers, where things really get interesting.
“A lot of them are based on what we have,” Rolling said. “We get together every morning and brainstorm about what we have a lot of and create recipes that use those items.”
The finished product can be as simple as roast beef to as unusual as spicy summer sausage and provolone cheese.
With a complete grocery store chock full of fresh, natural products, including antibiotic-free meats, there is never a lack of raw materials.
“They always create something delicious,” Hayek said. “And we always know exactly where the ingredients came from.”
True to the fast food tradition, service is quick, with a goal of no more than 10 minutes from ordering to delivery. For those with a bit more time, The Luncheonette has a one-of-a-kind counter, embossed with hundreds of pennies, and stools and a cozy dining room that looks like something from grandmother’s farmhouse.
The restaurant has two separate kitchens, one featuring only gluten-free items, ideal for those suffering from food allergies that seem to be becoming more and more common.
“We even have a special grill set aside,” Hayek said.
Business has been brisk since the restaurant opened on Jan. 19, and Hayek said she is looking forward to more and more variety as winter turns to spring and summer and fresh, local products become available.
The Luncheonette is open Mondays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Paninis are served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., longer for larger parties with reservations. Soups are available until 6 p.m.
“The success of Natural Living and the Luncheonette is a direct result of a supporting community, family and friends,” Hayek said. “They have encouraged and helped us in so many ways to grow. We are just so grateful.”