Over the last 37 years, Madison's Cafe has become a landmark in Jefferson City, with owner Rob Agee at the helm.
Agee bought 216 Madison St. in 1982 and went to work rehabbing the building, which previously housed the Statehouse and Senate Lounge.
"It was a nice restaurant, but it was a mom-and-pop type place where they had pie cases and Walgreen-type counter stools," Agee recalled. "We did away with all of that because our menu was not going to be that. It was going to be Italian, and it was a niche that was never in Jefferson City."
Less than a month after closing on the building, Agee opened Madison's Cafe in downtown Jefferson City.
"We started with a hope and a whim, and we turned out pretty good," Agee said.
About 18 months after opening Madison's Cafe, Agee purchased the neighboring Brass Rail restaurant at 214 Madison St. and combined the buildings to expand the now 7,200-square-foot restaurant.
Over the last 37 years, Agee has upgraded the menu and remodeled the inside and outside of the restaurant. Despite these fresh changes, he said, the key to a successful restaurant is "consistency and quality in service and in food."
"It's always a challenge whenever you have new restaurants," he said. "They always have a little piece of the pie so you want to make sure you keep your own. That's one of the keys to the restaurant's success is people have been coming here and they consistently know what the food is going to be like, what the service is going to be like and hopefully each dining experience is better than their last."
During its 37-year history, Madison's has welcomed several well-known guests, including every Missouri governor since 1982, several U.S. senators, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, American blues singer B.B. King, entertainment group the Blue Man Group, and country singer Willie Nelson.
Agee has several fond memories with Madison's Cafe, including visits from the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. One of his favorite moments was when 125 bagpipers performed in the restaurant in the late 1980s.
The business owner isn't the only one who has memories inside Madison's Cafe. People have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, promotions and more at the restaurant.
"It's enjoyable for me to be able to make memories," Agee said. "There's a lot of memories that have been made here, a lot of reservations that have been made here."
It's not uncommon to see Madison's as a host or corporate sponsor at various events, including hosting dinners for "Tip a Cop" through Special Olympics and "Operation Bugle Boy," as well as sponsoring Thursday Night Live, Salute to America, Scene One Theatre and The Little Theatre, among others.
"The Jeff City community is bigger than just our little place," Agee said.
The Italian restaurant has also won many awards over the last three decades, including most recently a Historic Landmark designation through the city. The Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission, the Historic City of Jefferson and Jefferson City Council named 214 and 216 Madison St. a Historic Landmark in early May.
Along with owning a business, Agee has been involved with several local boards over the years, including with the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Mid-Missouri Chapter of the Missouri Restaurant Association. He also led an effort to re-invigorate the Jefferson City Downtown Association.
For 10 years, Agee pushed for a city ordinance passed to allow outside dining. Now, it is one of their most popular features.
"If you go over to Europe, if it's 50 or 54 (degrees), everybody is sitting outside," he said. "Outside dining is a fun thing to have."