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Local bars, restaurants adjusting to shutdown

Local bars, restaurants adjusting to shutdown Local bars, restaurants adjusting to shutdown

Take-outs, delivery still available at many spots

Since March 17, what once seemed unthinkable has become a reality: all of the bars and restaurants in Wisconsin are shut down indefinitely.

Actually, for those establishments that serve food to customers, a “shutdown” is not entirely accurate. Most local eateries and taverns are still offering carry-out food orders and some are doing deliveries. Owners said these options are really the only way to keep at least some revenue coming in amid a global pandemic that has shuttered thousands of businesses across the United States.

Pam Geiger, owner of Boozer’s in Dorchester, said last Friday that the carryout orders have been OK, but “not really great.” Boozer’s normally employs six people, a mix of cooks and waitresses.

“Tonight, we’d normally need five, but I’ve only got two working,” she said. “Yeah, it’s taking a toll, definitely.”

Geiger said she’s happy to report that local patrons haven’t completely given up on her business.

“We’ve got really loyal customers, absolutely,” she said.

Boozer’s is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday and Monday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tom Wempner, owner and sole operator of Point 08 in Dorchester, is still taking carry-out orders, but he says they’ve been “few and far between.”

“If this goes on for any length of time, obviously it’s going to hurt a lot of people,” he said. “I’m going to assume that a lot of people aren’t going to recover.”

Wempner said he also rents out apartments, and has renters to think about. The bills keep coming even when your income drops to zero, Wempner noted.

“Hopefully people have got some money set aside,” he said.

Wempner said he usually comes in at 11 a.m. every day and stays until 8 p.m., but he said he’s willing to answer calls outside those normal hours.

Like many people, Wempner is resigning himself to the situation.

“What are you going to do? It is what it is,” he said. “It sucks.”

Tony Zeneli, owner of The Medos restaurant in Abbotsford, said he’s down to three full-time waitresses to help with carry-out orders between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Sunday, and 4 to 7 p.m. every day, and Friday until 8 p.m.

The restaurant normally employs about 10 waitresses with a full-time cook, but the cook is now working part-time.

“I hope this will stop soon, and we will be happy,” he said. “But the first thing is life — making sure everyone is safe and not getting the disease. I recommend that everyone who feels sick to stay home, especially the older people.”

Robbie Smazal, owner of Hunter’s Choice in Colby, said his establishment is also still offering carry-outs.

“We aren’t getting a ton, but we are getting some,” he said.

Hunter’s is open two hours for lunch and three hours at night, he said.

Smazal normally employs one fulltime person and five part-timers, but he’s down to just the full-time employee.

“For most of them, it’s their secondary jobs anyway,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my full-time person busy, cleaning and doing some other stuff.”

Smazal has seen an increase in customers at his other business, BBD Sports Shop in Abbotsford, where people are going to stock up on guns and ammo. The store’s full-time employee is staying busy, he said, and so is a part-timer who is helping with a remodeling project.

“For me, the frustrating part as a business owner is just not knowing,” he said. “If this goes on for three to five months, I ain’t going to be able to survive on takeout.”

Justin Ingersoll, owner of Frickin’ A west of Dorchester, said they are offering both carry-outs and deliveries, with a reduction in the per-mile fee down to $1 to save customers money.

Frickin’ A has been opening at its regular time, 11 a.m., but not staying open as late because people aren’t allowed to come in for a drink.

“We’re trying to do what we can to get people their food or whatever they want here,” he said.

The bar has 13 part-time employees, most of whom have other jobs. Those who don’t have been given the chance to fill more shifts if they want to, Ingersoll said. One of them is a teacher who is laid off right now, and the other manages Maurice’s in Medford, which has also been closed, he said.

“We’ve had good support from the locals, as for food orders, so far,” he said. “We’ll try to accommodate any delivery requests and for sure carry-outs are available.”

Ivonne Vazquez, owner of La Botana in downtown Abbotsford, said she is offering carry-out orders and deliveries to the communities of Abbotsford, Colby, Dorchester and Curtiss.

“We can’t complain. We’ve been getting support from our customers in the community, which is good,” she said. “We’ll see how this keeps going. It’s not easy for anyone.”

La Botana is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is a familyowned business, and the bartenders they have hired have other jobs to rely on.

When asked how other businessowners seem to be doing in downtown Abbotsford, Vazquez said, “Everyone is feeling it. There is fear in the community, and a lot of people don’t want to go out.”

Like everyone, Vazquez said she hopes things start to get better, or “at least we start getting some answers.” She said the worst part of this situation is the uncertainty.

“It seems like it’s not getting any better, day after day,” she said. “We are on this roller-coaster where we are going down right now.”

Ariel Oehmichen is another small business owner from Colby who’s been feeling the fallout from COVID-19.

Just over a year and a half ago, Oehmichen opened up the Coffee Coop across STH 13 from the Colby School District. She’s used to seeing a brisk business from her lunch and various hot and cold beverages. That’s pretty much grounded to a halt, she says.

“Business is slower,” she said via Facebook. “We stopped serving lunch, which makes a difference in our numbers.”

While the numbers are down, the Coop is still open for business, and like other restaurant owners, Oehmichen is working within the parameters of Gov. Evers’ edict by offering drinks via curb-side pickup and orders from home.

“I mostly working until noon each day, a couple employees are also coming in,” she said last Friday. “Today we had a really good day, though. It had been getting slower and now today business jumped.”

Oehmichen says support from locals has been great, and with people eager to help small businesses, she’s doing what she can to accommodate her customers.

“I know there are people who want to support the Coop, but want to do everything right as well,” she said. “I’m completely OK with that. We will be getting creative, and thinking outside the box.”

The lack of revenue hurts, but with the CDC and other public health agencies urging social distancing and self-quarantines, the thing Oehmichen really misses is the people.

“The worst part is not seeing our regulars and watching people meet up and sit for a bit,” she said. “I can’t wait for the Coop to not be so quiet, but the community has been great so far.”

It’s also been something of a guessing game for Oehmichen in terms of what to keep stocked. She’s also keenly aware of how her businesses’ needs might affect a family’s needs.

“Being a small business [owner] I am afforded the opportunity to purchase more since I will be supplying more than a household ... but I struggle with it, because if there is, say, a milk shortage ever, I’m not making somebody’s young child go without milk so people can enjoy a cup of coffee,” she said.

Ultimately, Oehmichen says she’s doing her best to keep her business going, and to help her community get through a difficult time.

“I’m just trying to be a smart business person, while being a responsible community member,” she said. “That has been my biggest struggle so far but it is really important to me.”

Amber’s Colby Cafe is empty, the scent of cooking food gone. The typical hustle and bustle of the successful restaurant is non-existent thanks to the coronavirus.

But not even a global pandemic can stop Amber Muehlbauer from doing what she can to provide food and aid to her community and loyal customers.

Muehlbauer, a Colby native, has run the cafe for over a decade. She’s weathered problems before, but COVID-19 has had a severe impact on her business.

“It’s extremely affected the cafe,” Muehlbauer says.

The loss of revenue hurts, but Muehlbauer says she’s one of the lucky ones.

“I’m glad I had another job to fall back on. I currently work at the Colby nursing home as a CNA,” she said. “I gave them my schedule and full hours right now so at least I have that job to fall back on.”

Unfortunately, the staff — which includes four waitresses, three bus-boys and a cook — don’t have dual incomes to rely on, and this upsets Muehlbauer, who’s employees are like family to her.

“I’m extremely pained by my employees. It was very hard telling them that I had to close,” she said. “The only thing I could tell them was to collect unemployment. There’s not much you can say except that you’re sorry and that you hope it passes by quickly.”

Muehlbauer knows that COVID-19 has forced people out of their routine, but one fact remains: people need to eat, and not everyone has the ability to cook for themselves. To that end, she has decided to continue serving fish fry via curbside pick-up, and delivery to those in Colby.

“I am having carry-outs, and I also have a lady that will be delivering fish fry if people don’t want to come outdoors or can’t even, like the elderly,” Muehlbauer says in between her food prep.

She’s taking precautions as well, making sure there’s a six-foot distance between each customer, and posting signs to help direct traffic.

“I’ll have one door for enter only and one door for exit only so nobody has to collide together,” she said.

Like many places, Muelhbauer said her inventory is really low right now. She froze what she could and donated the rest to the Community United Pantry and Zion Lutheran Daycare.

“Their demand is very high, so I was very happy that my food could get used,” she said.

Muehlbauer offered two messages that she hopes people will heed — remain hopeful and be helpful.

“Don’t hoard,” she advised. “Don’t go out and buy 20 of one item if you only need two or three, and stay strong. We’ll get through this, we’ve gotten through worse. This isn’t going to last forever, you just gotta keep staying positive.”