MANCHESTER, NH — When Rob Curry and Kyle Davis opened Madear’s Cajun-style restaurant more than two years ago (three, if you count all the months of reconstruction hell, permits and inspections) they envisioned a warm and welcoming place where the food was top notch and the atmosphere felt like home.
They achieved that goal — and more. Now, they’re packing up the hot sauce and moving on.
But not too far, and not for long, says Curry. He smiles when asked where Madear’s 2.0 will be located. Instead of answering, he drops some clues.
It will still be in downtown Manchester. It will have a parking lot. It will be bigger and better. “Watch our Facebook for more clues,” he says, promising to spill the beans in mid-December, once it’s closer to ready.
Curry and Davis have done more than bring a taste of the bayou to Hanover Street. They have also changed the culture a bit. The partners in business and in life have been outspoken champions of Pride Day in the city, requesting a rainbow flag be hoisted at City Hall last year for the first time. They also host family-friendly events that are welcoming and inclusive, whether you’re looking for authentic etoufee or an occasion to wear your heels to drag brunch.
The decision to close the door on their Hanover Street eatery is a temporary measure, one that will address some of the barriers they’ve faced at the present location and one that should help them take their business to the next level. They have also launched a crowdfunding investment campaign through Mainvest and have raised $5,500 of their $25,000 goal, money to help retrofit and decorate.
Their little slice of Hanover Street is wedged between a seamstress and a Colombian eatery, with only a few street parking spots.
“When we took this place on it was nothing,” says Davis. “And it’s a little bit heartbreaking to leave. This was our passion, to build the storefront and make it the funky place it is that fits our personalities to a T.”
Curry and Davis built everything from the bar to the bathrooms.
“But a lot of our customers or potential customers had reservations about this part of the street and that prohibited them from coming. We don’t want to hear about that anymore, though. We’re making a move that will be great for us, and for our customers.”
Over the two years they;ve lobbied for street lights, held a block party and partnered with other local businesses like Jupiter Hall, to provide catering for events. They also participated in the Taco Tour, and will be holding their final Drag Brunch of the year this weekend, Oct, 27 from 12 to 4 p.m.
During their two-year run they cultivated a cast of devoted regulars and served up some of the sauciest, spiciest Cajun cooking to some of the city’s mort prominent diners — from congressmen, aldermen and the Mayor, to school board members, teachers and a convoy of diners who heard about them via a recent Phantom Gourmet broadcast, and made the trek from Massachusetts.
The opportunity to reinvent Madear’s in a larger place with room to grow was impossible to pass on, and necessary to stay afloat.
From a business standpoint, Davis and Curry have always done things a little unconventionally. As they realized that their location at 175 Hanover St. had challenges due to its proximity to public housing, the homeless shelter and vacant storefronts, they juggled the restaurant with day jobs – Curry works for the Department of Motor Vehicles, while Davis, an engineer by trade, works for BAE Systems. They are also raising two teenage girls.
All that meant adjusting their hours and focusing on long weekends, which led them to develop their drag brunch crowd.
“We know that a good amount of our guests will follow us, and we will probably lose some with the move, but we hope they reconsider making that extra mile trip to find us. It will be worth it,” says Davis. “We’re going to have a whole menu page devoted to grits.”
“It took us two years to realize New Hampshire people like good grits — so we’ll have a whole selection of grits with different sauces, toppings and gravies,” Davis said.
They made the announcement during an intimate off-hours potluck dinner at the restaurant on Oct. 14, where a gathering of friends, family and regulars were watching the epic Phantom Gourmet episode.
Minutes after the video ended, Curry called for the attention of the room and announced that they would be closing as of Oct. 27.
There was a moment of silence followed by Curry’s boisterous belly-laugh which brought everyone back to earth.
He then explained the plan, to reorganize and reopen at a “soon to be disclosed” location off Elm Street. A bigger better version of Madear’s is in the works, he said, to include an in-house bakery, function room, outdoor seating, and to build on what they started on Hanover Street, a family-oriented space for the LGBTQ community to eat dinner, throw a party, have a meeting, or kick up their heels.
It’s all happening, said Curry. But to boost their ability to do it up right and decorate the new digs, they are one of the first New Hampshire businesses to test the waters of crowd-sourced funding through Mainvest.
It’s a fundraising site much like a Kickstarter, in that anyone can support the cause and invest ($100 minimum) with a 75 percent return on that investment for early adopters. In other words, invest $100 now in Madear’s and you’ll get back $175. Quarterly revenue shares are deposited directly into your bank.
Curry said people can also get their names on chairs and other “buy-ins” that help create that sense of community, “where everyone knows your name.”
Inbal Rejwan-Day and her husband, Robert Day, were among those who attended the potluck.
“I’m really excited for them. It’s great to see such giving people like Robb and Kyle be a part of the community and the growth of that community since they opened this place,” Rejwan-Day said.
She and her husband found Madear’s after Nawlin’s on Elm Street closed and they needed a southern food fix.
“We tried them and we never left,” Robert Day said. “We sort of live here now.”
He said he’s not sure how he would fill the gap while Madear’s reorganizes, except with sadness.
“I don’t have anything to actually fill the gap. When your go-to is gone, it’s just not the same,” he said.
Inbal Rejwan Day said she has considered joining Madear’s High Heel Club and now that they are looking for investors she will find a way to “give back” to them.
Ed Murphy also thought the “co-op” approach for a restaurant was a good idea.
“If there’s a successful way to do a co-op restaurant, these are the guys to do it,” Murphy said. “They give so much.”
He frequents Madear’s, not only for the food and cocktails, but for the enlightenment.
“If you asked me five years ago if I’d be bringing my kids to a city Pride event, I’d probably say no. But the next thing you know, I’m here celebrating a Pride event and telling my kids about inclusivity,” Murphy said.
Cameryn Andrews, 25, sits down on a barstool and talks about what it’s meant to him to have a place like Madear’s.
“I was homeless at 19 and ended up here at the shelter, but I eventually figured it out. I got a job and an apartment,” he said. Madear’s quickly became a “safe space” for him.
“I feel like Manchester doesn’t have enough safe spaces for people my age that isn’t a bar or club setting. I don’t want to go to a club feeling like I’m going to get beat up for being transgender,” Andrews said. “Madear’s is more than about feeding people; this place fills you.”
- Follow Madear’s on Facebook to learn more about their big move as the clues are revealed.
- Support Madear’s via Mainvest here.