Graham Kilmer

Bars, Restaurants and COVID-19

How restaurants and taverns in Milwaukee are reacting to the Coronavirus.

By - Mar 13th, 2020 04:58 pm
Good City Brewing's downtown location. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Good City Brewing’s downtown location. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Update 3/15/2020 7:51 p.m.: A number of bars and restaurants have begun to announce closures and changes to their operations.

The list of large events and gatherings closing due to the Coronavirus continues to grow. But thus far, there has been little word of closures from bars and restaurants.

So far only two major closures have been announced. Lakefront Brewery and Good City Brewing’s Fiserv Forum location.

Tracy Kosbau of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association said they currently don’t have any information on, nor have heard of any, closures in the area. But, she said, the association has been fielding concerns from owners about slow downs in business, or the impact closures would have on the livelihood of their restaurants.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Mayor of New York City Bill De Blasio announced that all venues with capacities of 500 people or less would need to reduce their capacity by 50 percent.  Businesses that don’t follow the New York order will be required to close.

The manager of a fine dining restaurant told Urban Milwaukee he hasn’t heard of any restaurants in the area closing. And it would likely take some type of official order, like the one in New York, for closures to begin occurring en masse.

Many restaurants have delicate profit margins. Closing for extended periods of time can be deadly for them.

Milwaukee Public Market, which saw two million visitors last year and is the draw for the highest amount of traffic to the downtown area, told Urban Milwaukee they will continue to operate business as usual until they say otherwise.

Lakefront Brewing was the first major hospitality closure in Milwaukee. The brewery announced Wednesday they would close to the public, but keep their brewing operations running. “It’s crucial that our city gets out in front of this health crisis,” said Russ Klisch, brewery president and founder, in a statement. “We only have one chance to end the transmission of this virus.”

The brewery’s day to day operations (brewing, cellaring, packaging) are small, clean and dependable, the brewery said. But all public events and tours are off until further notice.

Good City Brewing announced Friday morning it was closing its taproom adjacent to Fiserv Forum until further notice after the cancellations of many large-scale events and entire sporting leagues and tournaments.

The brewery said it would continue to book and host private events, and its East Side taproom will remain open.

The restaurant association circulated a release to its members with information about the virus, as well as tips for safely operating their businesses. The obvious emphasis on keeping sick workers at home, washing hands and maintaining a sanitary establishment were included.

The association also included some helpful tips for restaurant owners. For instance, beefing up “to-go” offerings. Restaurants could include a “car hop” where customers can place orders and staff can bring them directly to their cars.

The association also said restaurants should look at cash reserves, determine profit-margin necessary for long-term sustainability of the business and be creative about the use of staff. “Millennials are not going to suddenly learn to cook amid this outbreak – how can you get meals to them creatively?”

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More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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