Soup for you: Travis Tveit’s Chowderhead on Monroe offers delicious clam chowders and sandwiches

Chef Travis Tveit opened his first restaurant, Chowderhead, on March 7 specializing in clam chowders and sandwiches, and business has been brisk ever since in the former location of Ruins.

Tveit, who previously worked at Iron Goat Brewing and Tony Brown’s Ruins and is the drummer of the band Indian Goat (which is on a break, but they have a show booked at Lucky You Lounge in May), is also juggling being a father for the first time – to 1½-year-old Elias – along with running Chowderhead at 825 N. Monroe St.

I’ve had lunch at Chowderhead twice and highly recommend all the chowders – the original clam chowder, steelhead trout clam chowder and the specials of the day (the two I’ve tried have been excellent). One chef told me, “I’ve been dethroned as the chowder king,” much to Tveit’s surprise and delight.

And I also love the Cuban sandwich. Another chef described the sandwich as “pretty much perfect.” Tveit chatted about Chowderhead, hard work and fatherhood during a quick break on the first Saturday of operation:

Congratulations on your first restaurant Chowderhead, Travis. How did you come up with the concept and name?

When this was Ruins, I noticed that there were just a lot of people around this area during the workweek. Tony Brown asked me if I wanted to take over his restaurant, so I started thinking about what I thought would do well here.

I’ve always really loved soup, and I know how to make a lot of them. I wanted to open a lunch-centric place that offered soups and sandwiches. The name Chowderhead tells you what is served inside, and the name is meant to be funny – it’s humorous and fun.

It just fit what I wanted to do, and I thought that people would respond to it because there is nothing like it around here – and they have. We opened on Monday (March 7).

When did you start thinking about Chowderhead?

On Dec. 28. We had a few days off over the holidays, and I just had this feeling that Tony was going to text me something about work at Ruins, whether we’re hiring more staff or changing the menu or we would be open seven days a week or move locations again. I thought something was going to happen, and I was right. It was a text message I was kind of waiting to receive.

I was definitely caught off guard, but I was also very thankful and happy at the same time that Tony thought of me, that he thought to ask me if he would be something I would be interested in doing, because he could’ve asked anyone else who definitely would’ve wanted to be in here.

I’m really thankful that he thought of me to give me a shot. This is a chance for me to finally have my own place. And now here we are a couple of months later. I still worked for Tony for about a month, so the turnaround for Chowderhead was about a month.

What is new in this space?

I have a business partner who owns a construction company, so the painting outside the building, the new floors in here, we restored the wood trim all the way around in the front, we did all this work very quickly. I cleaned the kitchen, wrote recipes and made sure everything was how I wanted it before we opened.

I was ready to go when we opened on Monday. We don’t have beer yet, but I hope to have that here in three weeks.

How has the first week of operation been?

It has been long; it has definitely been long. I’ve been working 18-hour days. I’ll leave here about midnight and return at 6 am Physically and mentally, I’m fine, but I know that I can’t continue to do the 18-hour workdays forever.

Absolutely for the first two to three weeks, I knew that it was going to be a lot. I’ll have to figure out staffing. I have a dishwasher and a line cook right now. I’m going to need a little more help.

What would you tell a first-time customer to order at Chowderhead alongside the clam chowders?

Definitely the meatball sub. It’s been the No. 1 bestseller along with the Cuban sandwich. When I wrote the first draft of the menu, I was told that I was pricing too high, so I lowered it. Now I’m being told that my prices are very reasonable.

Overall, I just want people to feel like they’re getting a good deal. Price changes on the menu are inevitable, but I’m fine with where I’m at right now.

Which sandwich do you like the most on the Chowderhead menu?

I like the turkey bacon pesto because it’s such a simple sandwich. When I was working here alone, for weeks, I ate that sandwich more than any other sandwich. It is so easy to make.

What other flavors of chowder are you planning?

I made a corn chowder for this first week. I want to make a Manhattan clam chowder, a tomato-based seafood chowder. A potato chowder that is vegetarian. I’d like the third option to not have meat sometimes because a lot of people are vegetarian. There are a lot of different chowders.

What has been the most surprising thing about opening your own place?

The shift in mentality you have when you go from working for someone else to working for yourself. It’s stressful. When I’m working for myself, it’s different. Now I want everyone to come in … even a minute before closing. That used to really grind my gears, people coming in that late, and now I have a different mentality about working.

And how is fatherhood?

It is amazing. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s been hard being away from him because I’m here so much, but I know that’s not going to be forever. What I’m doing right now will benefit his life when he’s older. He’s definitely a huge motivator – I will work 18-hour days for him.

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