Landmark restaurant readies its showcase attraction for 2014 season
There are many signs of spring: ground hog predictions, re-discovered yard implements from six months ago, as well as sand and grime-infused mounds of recalcitrant snow that defy solar. One additional sign noticed this week is that the process has begun to rouse the Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor carousel from hibernation.
Ella’s Deli has been a wonderland for children since they opened their East Washington Avenue location in 1976. The fanciful mechanical “animations” as they are termed on the restaurant’s website, are perfect distractions when dining with young children.
Many of these creations as well as the theme of the restaurant was inspired by a visit owners Ken and Judy Balkin made to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. Ken, along with other employees and local artists, would add to the collection over the years which is like a kaleidoscope, ever changing each time one enters the restaurant.
If the colorful restaurant was not enough to draw people in, the carousel is now a landmark in the community. In 1981, Ken acquired the rare 1927 Parker Carousel which was one of only 75 in the country.
When it first arrived it needed an extensive restoration after being dismantled and stored after 20 years of service in a park in New York state.
Ken told MadisonOrginals.com a few years ago that it was a dream to own a carousel but he knew nothing about them. He became an expert quickly in the two months it took to restore it. Each year the Carousel requires a fair amount of maintenance which goes on all winter, usually by Ella’s everyday employees.
“The misconception that people have is that it’s under there in the winter, but it’s not,” said Ella’s Manager Catie Tollefson. “Because it’s a 1927 original we can’t leave it out there because of the wood so; all the horses come off, all the light bulbs come off, some of the structure has to be out there to hold [it up]…but a lot of it comes off.”
On Monday (March 24) when I stopped by around noon, the protective panels were removed, most of the lights had been installed and workers were attaching the wooden edges to the carousel deck. One employee who has been helping with the carousel for decades said the horses are kept inside the white house just to the west of the restaurant where they are restored.
The employee, who has a granddaughter, said that this year he felt some “girl” themed horses were needed to balance out the more masculine styles that currently gallop along the deck.
Look this season for two pink My Little Pony-style horses that will ride along with the sports-themed horses painted in Badger and Packer colors.
Ella’s first began as a kosher deli on State Street and was operated by Ella Hirschfeld. In the early 1960s, the Balkins purchased the business and kept the name, operating it until it closed. The space was eventually purchased by a high school classmate of Tollefson’s, Hawk Sullivan, who opened Hawk’s Bar & Grill.
Tollefson says it takes about a week to prepare the carousel for the season and while they are predicting a Friday opening its best to monitor Ella’s Facebook page for the latest information since weather, like last night’s snowfall, can change the timeline.
Related: Born To Bun