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Chef renames restaurant from nonbinary child’s deadname to their chosen name

"I care about my kiddo and, you know, him being able to have a safe and happy life," says Dave Heide, owner of Ollie's in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Heide family
The Heide familyCourtesy Dave Heide
/ Source: TODAY

When 16-year-old Ollie came out to his parents as nonbinary two years ago, his dad, Dave Heide, says he didn't bat an eye.

"I was like, 'OK, cool, what's up? Is there something else going on or...?'" Heide tells TODAY.com. "He was like no, I'm coming out!' and I was like, 'Oh, OK, cool.'"

There was never any question to Heide and his wife that they'd support their kid — who uses both he/him and they/them pronouns — at any cost.

So when it came to the question of the name of the family's restaurant, which was Ollie's deadname, or name prior to transition, Heide asked his son what he wanted to do.

Initially, Ollie had been on board to leave restaurant's name as-is, but after a while, it started to wear on him.

"We had talked about it before and I had a lot of connection to it since I’d grown up with it," Ollie tells TODAY.com. "But it just it got getting harder and harder to see my old name, huge on the side of the road. And my dad just kept listening and tried to come up with a bunch of different solutions, and then decided to change it."

The original restaurant was a fine-dining New Orleans restaurant that put Heide on the culinary map when it opened more than 15 years ago in Madison, Wisconsin, but it meant many of Ollie's new high school teachers knew of his dad — and, by extension, Ollie's deadname.

Ollie adds that many of his teachers weren’t aware of “how big of an issue it is to say someone’s deadname like that in the classroom.”

“And there is just that dread of like, as soon as someone brings up my dad, I knew ... the whole class was going to know my deadname now.”

Heide says that changing the name was the clear and obvious choice for him. He says that when he asked Ollie again if he wanted to change the restaurant name, his son had been nervous to say yes.

"He was like, 'Only if that's OK,'" Heide says. "And I was like, 'Of course, I don’t give a s--- about my brand or whatever ... I care about my kiddo and, you know, him being able to have a safe and happy life.”

Heide adds that trans people have a lower life expectancy as a result of "the amount of cases of suicide and whatnot."

Heide and Ollie in front of the bar the teen helped design inside the restaurant.
Heide and Ollie in front of the bar the teen helped design inside the restaurant.Courtesy Dave Heide

But instead of just re-name the establishment, Heide decided to revamp the place entirely. The new restaurant, now called Ollie's, is fast-casual and features family-favorite foods.

"So, it's like smash burgers and Detroit-style pizza and Mediterranean food, like euros and falafel and that kind of stuff, but we do it all with a chef-forward approach," Heide explains. They also make everything from scratch, he says.

Ollie and his two other siblings, Charlie and John, got to help with some of the design choices during the renovation, too. The new-and-improved Ollie's opened five weeks ago and they've been "packed" ever since, Heide says.

Ollie said he's happy to share his story so that he can be an example to others as someone feeling free to take up space.

"It's so hard for so many trans people feeling like they're a burden when they ask people to make those changes," he says. "And when my dad made the move to change the entire restaurant, the restaurants name and like, just change everything about it — even though it had a super big business following everything — it showed trans people that like it's OK to ask for those changes."

The interior of the recently renovated restaurant Ollie's.
The interior of the recently renovated restaurant Ollie's.Courtesy Dave Heide

He added that to have his dad accommodate his new name had been "amazing."

"My dad showing that it's no big deal — well, it is a big deal — but it's worthwhile one, you know?"

Heide adds that their hometown of Madison has embraced the new restaurant and their family.

"Madison is like the San Francisco with the Midwest. So we're pretty safe here, I think," he says. "The Madison community has absolutely embraced Ollie and Ollie's. We were invited to the Pride walk that just opened up downtown ... And it's actually it's actually amazing."

Ollie and his family have become advocates for LGBTQ rights at a time when state lawmakers across the U.S. have proposed a record number of bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Nearly 670 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans. Nearly all of the country’s 50 state legislatures have weighed at least one of these bills, including Ollie's home state of Wisconsin.

Ollie says he feels compelled to share his story and keep speaking out, despite being harassed online after sharing his story. He says he initially let the cyberbullying "get to" him, but he's been able to see past it.

"Now I just think about how sad it is," he explains. " I am so happy in my life right now. Like, my whole family loves and supports me and I’m doing amazingly and trolls on the internet are putting so much effort into making a kid feel bad about themselves."

The Heide family.
The Heide family.Courtesy Dave Heide

He adds that he's a happier person living his truth and despite people targeting him online or in school, he just doesn't think they're "worth my time anymore."

"It shows so much about other people’s ... perception of happiness that they see me sticking out and they assume that I’m miserable and attention-seeking," he says. "I just think it’s so incredibly boring to put conformity above your own happiness because as soon as I started doing things that were out of the norm, I felt happier and I started like really loving myself.

"It just shows that when you value conformity above everything else, it just isolates you and it makes you miserable."