This is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Profile: Shaina Robbins Papach — Creative Director and Co-owner of The Harvey House — an esteemed chef, culinary entrepreneur + hospitality guru.
Join us for a conversation with a native Madisonian who’s spent nearly two decades mastering the multi-faceted worlds of food, hospitality, and business.
Q: Let’s talk about life before The Harvey House.
A: We [Joe and I] met 16 years ago in New York while cooking at Gramercy Tavern — he was my boss. He went on to cook more in New York, previously in Boston and Chicago, then moved to Virginia and California before he was at The French Laundry for the last six years or so.
Q: And what was Shaina’s background?
A: I have a master’s in health and nutrition education from Teachers College and did more work with nonprofits + hospitality — managing donors and working on the business side of food — always working in organizations alongside restaurants. I’ve always been in restaurants.
Q: We’ve got the background + skillsets, what was the catalyst for The Harvey House?
A: We wanted to be closer to family, we moved from Napa and wanted to become more intertwined within our own community. And when we moved back here, we knew we wanted to open something.
Q: What was the driver for the restaurant’s location?
A: We looked at newer places, but ended up falling in love with the old train station — it’s old and beautiful, but has wonderful bones for us to work with. I grew up in Madison going to Cafe Palms, I’ve always loved this location. This is part of the city I really love.
Q: Was the idea always to be a “modern supper club”?
A: The original menu concept transitioned pretty quickly once we started thinking more about where we are + started eating around at supper clubs around Wisconsin. These clubs were something exciting and enjoyable — and it wasn’t just the food, but the vibe of hospitality, the generosity, and the history of these dinner clubs. We started taking those inspirations and pulling them into The Harvey House.
Q: That said, how would you describe The Harvey House?
A: I wouldn’t say we’re strictly a supper club. There are definitely elements that run through this concept but there are lots of other aspects as well. It was a way to take the food history of Wisconsin and pull it into things that we have been trained to do, bringing it together to create our own concept. We are constantly a work in progress.
Q: What’s a concept or idea you feel represents your brand?
A: Modern nostalgia.
Q: Let’s talk food. Is the menu intended to be static or dynamic?
A: More dynamic. This is a very different market than we’ve been in previously. There are certain things on our menu that guests request or come ready to eat, which we intend to keep, but the menu has changed a lot over the winter and now has a lot more flexibility. Joe + Sean work on menu changes together to keep things moving in the right direction.
Q: Can you tell me about the team?
A: For the most part, our staff is WI local — mostly Madison. Sean, our chef de cuisine, moved from California to help open and then was persuaded to stay. Our general manager — a deeply integral part of this process — moved from Chicago and is actually a UW-Madison alumni.
“I am consistently, daily, inspired by + grateful for the people who make this team.”
Q: So we’ve heard rumors of a new restaurant coming down the pipeline?
A: We are definitely in the preliminary stages of our next project. We like to take our time with something to make sure it feels completed, so there is no rush on the project — we have a lot of stabilizing left to do here at The Harvey House + things that we want to activate here.
Q: Where might we catch you, Joe + the kids for a bite out around the 608?
A: We go to Settle Down Tavern for cheeseburgers… a lot. We have three little kids so they really love it there. We also get Casetta sandwiches a fair bit. For a special evening, Joe + I have gone to Fairchild a few times, but to be perfectly honest, we don’t do a lot of dining out. We’re either at the restaurant or at home with kids — though we do order RED sushi quite a bit.