Campus History

Legends of 661 State Street

Troia’s Steak House was one of the location’s best-loved businesses.

Grayscale photo of the exterior of Troia's Steak House.

Before there was a Starbucks, there was a Wendy’s, and before Wendy’s, Troia’s Steak House was a fixture in the 600 block of State Street. Wisconsin Historical Society

Madison’s State Street is an ocean of change, dotted with islands of stability. Even in the brief span that an undergrad might stay in Madison, many State Street storefronts go through two, three, or even four identities.

One of the steady islands — or steady-ish — is 661 State Street, a location that has been home to not just one but several long-lasting businesses. For the last quarter of a century, Starbucks has stood at 661 State — enough time for most students to believe that the coffee shop was there since dinosaurs roamed the land and will be there long after the human race is forgotten.

But Starbucks arrived in the late 1990s. Before that, 661 State was home to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers for a couple of decades, dating back to the late 1970s. (Wendy’s made an attempt to return to State Street — in the 500 block — in the 2010s, but it only lasted three years.)

Before that, 661 had a couple of men’s clothing shops, but from 1955 to 1967, it was one of State’s swankier establishments: Troia’s Steak House.

Troia’s — opened by Joe Troia, nephew of Mateo Lombardino of Lombardino’s Restaurant — advertised steaks and martinis and live music. It had a Friday night fish fry (irrespective of the ethnicity of the restaurant, this is Wisconsin) and something foreign in modern Madison: plenty of municipal parking.

Troia also ran the adjacent Italian Village restaurant, and he attracted celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, and Liza Minnelli.

Troia’s and Wendy’s each must have seemed like permanent residents to the UW students of their day, just as Starbucks does to 21st-century Badgers.

Published in the Summer 2023 issue


  • Harmahinder Singh Bagga July 14, 2023

    Would like to know about the Paisan Pizza Restaurant on University Avenue in 1960’s. I received my PhD in Plant Pathology in 1966 and my wife Davinderjit Bagga received MS in Botany in 1963 and PhD in 1968 in Plant Pathology.

  • Adrian Reynolds July 14, 2023

    ‘Troia’ means b**** or w**** in Italian.

  • Toni (Goodman) Friedland July 14, 2023

    What about the toddle house? It was on state street right around the corner from my freshman dorm…Ann Emery
    Toni, class of 1960.

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