M&M: The old standby continues on
Every Sunday morning, hungry diners pour into the M&M Restaurant after church. They order coffee and eggs. Familiar faces fill the restaurant, creating Sussex's own version of "Cheers." Same thing goes for during the week - for breakfast and lunch. To some M&M is a second home.
"It's familiar. Eighty percent of our business is regulars. You get to know everybody. Some of the kids are coming back with their kids. It becomes a community-type thing," said Didier Babits. "We have a lot of older folks that come in and it's the same thing. If they don't come in in three days, we usually call them and see if they are OK."
The Babits have owned M&M for approximately 33 years. Before that the M&M was open using the same name but different owners. Didier said he thinks the M&M is about 50 years old.
"The previous owners had that, and his name was Walter, so I don't exactly know," said Didier of the restaurant's namesake. And before it was a diner, he said that it was a root beer stand reminiscent of an A&W.
Didier grew up around the restaurant. "I've been in the restaurant since I was 12. I was doing dishes back then," he explained.
Before the M&M, the Babits, Didier's immigrant parents Hungarian-born Steve and French Nicole, owned a diner called the Pikmar on Good Hope Road and Teutonia Avenue in Milwaukee. Then, Steve managed The Schwabenhof in Menomonee Falls, but the family went further west to Sussex when the M&M was up for sale.
Nicole, 78, and Steve, 81, still work at the M&M.
"That's all we have been doing. We meet lots of people," said Nicole, taking a break from the kitchen Saturday.
"The hard part is seeing the people disappear. We have the retirees come in, and they used to be the 9 o'clock group; used to be this whole section here. The running joke was if you needed to know anything about the politics of Sussex, you'd just come in here at 9 o'clock and listen to it. That was the discussion. Three quarters of them are gone now," said Didier.
But the constant has always been M&M's food - it hasn't changed. "That is what they enjoy about it. It's been funny. We've had people come in and haven't been here in 20 years. 'We had to bring the kids in for burgers and eggs,' " he said.
One of the menu favorites is Sunday's cheesehead-inspired eggs benedict that has a cheese sauce instead of a traditional hollandaise. "We've always been known for breakfast," Didier added.
For lunch, daily specials include home-y favorites like meatloaf, country-fried steak and butterflied shrimp. Wednesdays feature Hungarian Goulash, which is an old family recipe from Didier's grandmother.
"We have been around a long time. With everything changes so fast nowadays, it's kind of nice to have something with some continuity about it. Not everything has to change" he said.
Though the menu hasn't changed - M&M has changed slightly.
There was also a time that M&M was open for dinner. For now, there are no plans for that again. "I'm here 7 days a week as it is. I would burn out. It just doesn't work," said Didier, who has an associates degree in hotel and restaurant management. Didier has worked in fine dining - he's worked in France and at area country clubs, but a diner is more his style: "This is simpler. I can come in and do breakfast and lunch and still have a life." Things were different about 25 years ago, when the Babits had M&M 2 in Lannon and Cafe LaBelle on Lac LaBelle in Oconomowoc. "It became a little crazy," so now, the family focuses solely on the Sussex location.
Unlike many restaurants, M&M has survived recessions, as well as more competition coming to the area.
"We keep our prices as low as possible. We can feel it and we can see it in the way people are ordering. They eat less. Overall, it's been marginal for us. We're not high-end by any means. Usually, it is just as cheap to eat here as it is to buy in the grocery store," he explained. And he said the M&M has survived on very little advertising, as well.
As for the future of M&M, Didier said he hopes that it continues. That when his family is ready to pass the torch, that the M&M will continue on, keeping the people of Sussex's coffee cups full. (There are still plenty of regulars who depend on it.)