Sweet success: Food cart community grows in Madison

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)- The sweet idea of a food cart started with a table and tent for Stephanie Kaat, baker and co-owner of The Looking Glass Bakery. Kaat owns the bakery with Keegan Waggett, and the two use local ingredients and their love for food to "make people happy through dessert," according to the bakery's website.

Kaat started to love baking in her early 20s, and took on her favorite dessert: cheesecake.

Now, her sweet idea can be found on any Madison street during food cart season.
The biggest seller: the lemon lavender cheesecake.

"The lemon lavender came about because I really wanted to work with lavender," Kaat said. "It [lavender flavoring] was something I never worked with before. It was so new and creative and just loved it ... We’ve had it on our menu since day one, and people go crazy for it."

Kaat gets inspiration from everywhere for cheesecake flavors like grasshopper, blueberry-orange, banana-nutella and cold brew coffee cherry, just to name a few.

"I love baking sweets," Kaat said.

Down the block, another cart helped hungry customers the day NBC15 visited the food carts.

Laurel Burleson, Ugly Apple Food Cart owner, said she launched the cart in August of 2016 after she noticed how much food was going to waste in kitchens she'd been working in. From that idea, came the breakfast-specialty cart: Ugly Apply Food Cart.

"Maybe things that are scratched and dented, would still become an amanzing tomatoe sauche or apple fritter," Burleson said.

Burleson uses overstock produce from local farmers.

"The ugly apple, like the ugly duckling, becomes something greater, when it realizes its potential, I guess," Burleson said.

Celebrating great potential, turned success, is how Food Cart Fest came to be, according to Greg Potter, co-founder and executive director of Project Connect.

"We also felt there was a need to celebrate diversity in the food cart ownership," Potter said.

When the event first the event was started, Potter said there were about seven carts that set up for the community, this year, expect about 25. Food Cart Fest started four years ago. Potter said at last count, there's about 80 carts operating in Madison all together.

"The best group of inclusive, loving, sharing, diverse business owners mall business owners are in the food carts in this city," Potter said. "They [the vendors] are remarkable."

Also growing in popularity, the lavender lemon cheesecake with a lavender butter cream on top at The Looking Glass Bakery, which is named after Kaat's favorite story.

"I really loved 'Alice in Wonderland' as I was growing up," Kaat.

That story inspires her cart name and design on the back of her cart showing Alice holding a Looking Glass Cake from the second book.

"Alice is holding a cake, and it’s a looking glass cake. She goes to look for plates and forks to go and try to serve it, and there's a unicorn and a lion standing around. They said 'no, no, no. In order to cut a looking glass cake, you pass it around and it cuts itself,'" Kaat said describing what the animals told Alice.

That scene graces the graphics on her cart and supports her idea every day, because she serves mini desserts and cakes; cakes even Alice in Wonderland wouldn't be able to resist.

Click to the right for links to the food cart information.

Food Cart Fest is from 11a.m.-7 p.m., Oct. 1, Breese Stevens Field, located at 917 East Mifflin Street, Madison, WI 53703.

The stage schedule is as follows:

11 a.m.-noon: DragonFly Hot Yoga
2:30 p.m.: Orquesta Salsoul
5:30 p.m.: Kyle Megna and the Monsoons