Decades-old, iconic deli up for sale in Madison

MADISON, Wis. — An iconic, toy-filled deli is for sale in Madison after being in business for more than four decades.

The real estate agent for Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor told the Wisconsin State Journal that the owners hope the deli continues to operate as it has for 41 years. The listing price for the 5,500-square-foot facility is $1.4 million and includes a three-unit rental property next door.

Oakbrook Corp. is handling the listing.

"(Owner) Ken (Balkin) is having a really hard time with this," said Katie West of Oakbrook Corp. "This has been his lifelong business day in and day out, so it's been tough."

West says the listing is generating buzz.

"A lot of people know it," West said. "If you are from Madison, you know Ella's Deli. It's a historical landmark in Madison. It's a place where people have been going for generations. My parents brought me there and I take my kids there. It draws people from near and far."

A famous carousel in front of the deli was built in 1927. It needs annual upkeep to keep running.

"When we first got the carousel, it was a basket case, just a skeleton. It took a while, but we restored it," Balkin told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2007. "When we open it up each year, it's a sign of spring and that the winter doldrums are over."

Inside, the deli has whimsical, often antique toys, including superheroes, jugglers and acrobats. The glass-topped tables have revealing displays inside.

"It's been a long-term business, which is what Madison Originals is all about, what created the original restaurant scene," said Ed Shinnick, president of the local chapter of Dine Originals, a nonprofit national trade organization for independent restaurants. "Ella's Deli was certainly part of that. That's what we are trying to promote, 'buy local.'"