5 Questions With… Tyler Helikson

The founder of Happy + Hale has a new restaurant, Madre in Smoky Hollow, that offers a decidedly different vibe.

As told to Nelie Tahssili | photography by Elena Caron

In 2013, Tyler Helikson founded Happy + Hale, a fast-casual bowl and salad concept, in Raleigh. Since, he has opened five locations in the Triangle. Ten years later, his new restaurant venture, Madre, offers a decidedly different dining experience in Smoky Hollow. Inside chic interiors, guests can peruse a menu of small plates, wine and craft cocktails — an upscale, inviting spot for folks to linger for a meal or just a drink.

We sat down with Helikson to learn about his inspiration and what he hopes Madre will offer his Raleigh community. 

What was your vision for Madre?

Madre at its core is a space to bring people together over great food and wines of the world. Smoky Hollow already has a built-in communal feel with how the developers designed the space, but I felt we were really lacking an elevated dinner environment that celebrated hospitality. 

What was your inspiration for the interior?

We wanted to make a large space feel elevated, cozy, inviting and warm. We divided it into three different rooms, a main dining room, private dining room and bar/lounge area. Then we chose textures and finishes that would patina well over time. Bryan Costello, the interior designer, took the space to the next level with the purple ceiling treatment and a neon bathroom!

What do you hope that people experience here?

I want people to feel an energy. I want people to feel like they could be in a larger city, outside of North Carolina, and to feel truly transported outside of their daily lives. I want them to feel connected to the people in the space and to the team. Overall, I want them to feel like they’re being taken care of as if they were in their family home. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced when getting started?

We signed our lease in the middle of COVID and that made every part of the process challenging, from lending to permitting to construction. That was due to both the supply chain and to the difficulty of the project and amount of detail we wanted to put into it. We attempted to do something in Raleigh with building this space that we have not seen done before, and so to get the entire team from architects to construction to subcontractors on board and to be able to create the vision was more time consuming than we had anticipated. Other than that, as far as opening the actual restaurant goes, there are a lot of moving parts given the fact that we have a 60 person team, we have 150 seats and we are open 7 days a week. It was an ambitious undertaking, but it has been truly worth it. 

How do you see your role in the Triangle’s food community?

A rising tide lifts all boats and I want to be a dreamer, an innovator and someone that supports our team to be the best they can be. I also want to help other restaurants grow their businesses. I’ve mentored a few restaurant operators around town and that is one of the best things about my job, is helping others. Our food scene is a close-knit group of creative and kind individuals, and I am just grateful to be a part of that. 

What is your favorite food/drink pairing at Madre?

I like to think of our food as Mediterranean drinking food. There are a lot of good combinations. Right now, I would say my two favorites are the salmon crudo paired with our Txakoli wine, or the pulpo with the Tempranillo is also one of my favorites. And the Madre Margarita is great with anything!

This article was originally published on waltermagazine.com on August 8, 2023.