Garcia to Receive Wisconsin Restaurant Association Award

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Cameron Bren
Jose Garcia, general manager and part owner of Hubbard Ave. Diner, (R) will receive the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Champion in Restaurant Entrepreneurship Award in March. He is pictured here with Jason “The Pie Guy” Harder inside the diner.

MIDDLETON–Hubbard Ave. Diner general manager and part-owner José Garcia will receive the regional Champion in Restaurant Entrepreneurship award from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association next month. Garcia along with winners from the state’s other five regions will be honored at an award gala March 12 at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts in Milwaukee.

Garcia says he wasn’t expecting an award or even aware that he had been nominated but being recognized feels nice.

“Sometimes you get caught up in the day to day, keeping up the equipment, snow removal, customer complaints and you kind of forget what it’s really for that we are doing this,” Garcia says. “So it is kind of nice to get a recognition to remind you what you are doing here.”

The state is divided into five regions which each receive awards respectively. Madison area is the largest of all five with the most restaurants per capita. Garcia says knowing how many other good restaurants there are in the area makes him feel honored.

“It means a lot to me,” Garcia says. “I usually try to stay behind the scenes and not put my name or face out there. I try to make sure that I do what I do and not get much credit for it, but sometimes it is nice to get a recognition without doing much.”

Garcia says he has had many mentors over the 15 years he’s worked at the diner and he credits them for inspiring him. He says it will also be nice to show the company, Food Fight, which co-owns Hubbard Ave. Diner and 18 other unique restaurants in the area that they are being recognized for their work.

“It is a recognition for me, but it wasn’t just me who earned it,” Garcia says. “The support of Food Fight has been great over the years. The people I have worked with, my employees they all have a big role in my winning the award.”

Garcia says Food Fight strongly believes in promoting within the company. He says he is an example of that having started in the kitchen and working his way up to general manger and part owner in a few years.

He says he is grateful in having the opportunity to invest in his restaurant and others owned by the company. Garcia is part owner of four other restaurants.

Garcia also credits the community that supports the restaurant.

“Our restaurant is very community oriented, it is a big part of our success,” Garcia says. “We couldn’t be where we are as a restaurant without their support over the years.”

He says there are a lot of good restaurants in the area and they must set themselves apart in order to stand out. Besides the food and pies, hospitality is most important.

“For us hospitality is the way we set ourselves apart from other restaurants,” Garcia says. “We want to be that place that the customers come in repeatedly and we know them by name and some of their story and they know a little about us and they feel like a family when they come in.”

There are not a lot of diners in the area or as many as there once was around the country, Garcia says. Hubbard Ave. Diner preserves the classic diner feel but also adds new twists, he says. “We stay true to some things that people consider a diner should have but we also have added twists to things to stay on top of changes and the times,” he explains.

They get especially experimental with the pies and he credits head baker Jason “The Pie Guy” Harder for his work on that front. He says the taco pies are the latest innovation.

He says the restaurant adds one or two new items to the menu each year and also brings in seasonal flavors.

Garcia has been a Middleton resident for 18 years after moving to Wisconsin from Venezuela 21 years ago. He says he loves living in Middleton because it is similar to his hometown and he especially appreciate the quality of schools for his daughters.

“Diners were not part of my culture growing up,” Garcia says. “I knew about them but not something I really connected with.” He didn’t learn much about the culture of diners until he started the job. But once he started, he spent his first six years visiting many diners all around the country.

“Kind of like research and development, finding new ideas, what was it, how they present things, what they use and what they name it,” Garcia explains. “You hit good and bad and somewhere in between but it is always something new for me.”

Garcia says regardless of the overall experience he can always find something to think about.

“Even the horrible ones there is always one or two things that catch your attention and you play with the idea perhaps if executed right maybe it will work,” Garcia says.

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