Jackie and Nick Morse built a better mousetrap in 2013 — and baited it with macaroni and cheese.
Today, the proof is not in the proverbial pudding; instead, it can be found bubbling in the little cast-iron skillets that contain each serving of MACS Macaroni and Cheese Shops’ signature, piping hot dishes.
The Morses’ “mousetrap” has grown from one to three locations since the couple, both from the Dells, opened the first restaurant in June 2013 on Broadway.
Their original idea, for a “mac ‘n’ cheese-only” restaurant, “took off” almost right away, reports Nick Morse.
The pair opened a second location in Sun Prairie a year to the month later, and 18 months after that — this past November — they opened the third MACS, in Lake Delton at the new, restaurant-oriented strip mall on Kalahari Drive.
The latest restaurant, which at a 105-person capacity is their largest, represents the couple’s business plan a “holding pattern” — for now. They have two small children to raise, three restaurants to run and a lot to think about — including whether to listen to some very public opinions that suggest they could turn their idea into a nationwide moneymaker.
“We’d never say ‘never,’ obviously,” Nick Morse said.
Both Morses confirmed that, at present, the couple’s hands are full with three restaurants, two small children and Jackie’s involvement in the Dells nascent Design Review Committee, which during the past few months has vigorously re-written the downtown district’s sign code and developed new design standards for signs as one of the key, first steps in the area’s multi-year revitalization plan.
Along with plenty of customers intrigued and delighted by MACS’ numerous, original macaroni and cheese dishes, the rave reviews have flowed in since the first store was opened.
Midwest Living magazine included the restaurant in its “Top 10 Things To Do On A Budget In Wisconsin,” and the Movoto real estate blog named MACS one of “15 Wisconsin Restaurants That Will Blow The Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”
Wisconsin State Journal restaurant reviewer Samara Kalk Derby cut to the chase, comparing MACS favorably to an already, highly successful national chain — Noodles and Company — referring to MACS as “Noodles Jr.”
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“It’s not a franchise — yet — but it certainly looks and feels like one, and that’s a compliment to owners Nick and Jackie Morse, who have done a professional job with the menu and the look of the new Sun Prairie shop,” Derby wrote in 2014 soon after the Sun Prairie location opened. “The eating areas and the furniture are all tastefully done and so professional you’d be excused for assuming MACS is a franchise.”
Nick Morse said the professional, “franchise” look — including an overall Dairy State motif, giant photo of a cow’s face and even bigger mural along one wall containing various “cheesy” icons — was intentional.
“When we built the first one, we wanted to incorporate a lot of things in order to have that feel of something that could be easily replicated,” he said. Creating something that ultimately would be franchised, he said, “wasn’t the intention, but it was on the back of our minds.”
The couple’s biggest risk, they admit, was going for the “all-mac ’n’ cheese, all the time” approach — which some suggested would not work.
“We thought it had potential, but plenty of people had their doubts and thought it would either take off as mac ‘n’ cheese only or we would have to pivot” and add other items.
The menu remains much the same — and is based on the Morses’ “rich, cheesy sauce” base recipe and large, grooved elbow macaroni. Popular items include the “Chicken Bacon Ranch Mac” and the “Loaded Baked Potato Mac” as well as the “Original Mac” recipe.
Melts with similar flavor options also are available, as are a handful of wedge salads.
Nick Morse calls MACS’ fare “quality at a good value.”
“It’s all fresh and made to order, we don’t have any heat lamps” or pre-made entrees, he noted.
For the Morses, for now, “stay the course” — and keep the quality food coming — remain the watchwords.
“Like any Dells business, the summer is the first thing on our horizon,” Nick Morse said.