Bars, restaurants react to end of Evers’ ‘Safer at Home’ order

Some have re-opened immediately, while others remain closed

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Following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, bars and restaurants in most of the state are faced with a choice: reopen without government-mandated restrictions on capacity or social distancing, or remain closed to the public for now.

In the absence of Safer at Home, which was originally set to end May 26, some cities and counties in the state have begun issuing their own stay-at-home guidelines. The city of Milwaukee, city of Racine, Milwaukee County suburbs and Dane County have all taken such actions.

Outside of those areas, some establishments didn’t waste any time reopening their doors.

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“We’re open for business,” said Jeff Anson, owner of Hogger’s Pub in Hartland.

The small corner bar served its first customers since March 15 Thursday morning, having been closed under state order for the past two months.

Anson said the state’s restrictions on business operations was a “political ploy” by Evers to “destroy the economy that (President Donald Trump) built.”

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“It’s all about the Constitution of the United States, and we have let this government take all our rights away… and it’s not going to happen again,” said Anson, who also is a member of Hartland’s Village Board.

Anson and his three employees spent more than four hours Wednesday night sanitizing the entire bar, including all bottles and glassware, as well as all surfaces and bathrooms in the building. That was something the bar was doing regularly before the pandemic and will continue to do now, he said.

But Hoggers won’t enforce physical distancing amongst patrons.

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“It’s not a law, it’s a suggestion by health organizations– that’s it,” Anson said.

And that’s despite Waukesha County executive Paul Farrow encouraging businesses to follow CDC and Wisconsin Economic Corp. guidelines for reopening business. Farrow said late Wednesday he was not issuing a stay at home order.

In Grafton, Milwaukee Ale House has also reopened its doors. Co-owners Mike Stoner and Daniel O’Neil made the call Wednesday night following the state Supreme Court decision.

“I sent out the text, ‘time to go,'” said Stoner. “They had given us the opening and we’re going to take it.”

It was a quick decision, but extensive preparation for a May 26 reopening had been underway for the past two or three weeks, said Stoner.

The entire staff had gradually been brought back to assist with carryout operations, cleaning, menu roll-out and food prep. Earlier this week, Stoner had measured out at least six feet between tables that will seat diners (some will remain empty) and placed social distancing markers on the floor of the entrance.

The two-story restaurant with two outdoor decks is able to fit a total of 300 people. With the business’ social distancing measures in place, the capacity is down to 110 to 115, but that’s not how many diners will actually be seated at one time.

“I already have it in place that we will take reservations, I don’t care if it’s a party of two,” said Stoner. “I need to know that we’re seating properly, so no more than five tables every 15 minutes. By the time I turn things, we’re not going to ever reach 115 in here.”

Other bars and restaurants in the area aren’t as eager to return to normal operations.

Champps Americana in Brookfield plans to continue curbside and carry out operations until it reopens its dining room, likely sometime next week, said owner Tony Lewanovich.

At the time of the state Supreme Court decision, the business had not been in contact with most of its staff members who haven’t been at work for the past two months. And food and beer orders still need to be placed with brokers. Plus, the 11,000-square-foot space still needs to be rearranged to promote safe distancing, he said.

“We’re just too big to just flip a switch and say, ‘Hey, we’re open,'” said Lewanovich. “Some people like this idea of the wild, wild west and we don’t.”

Weissgerbers’s Golden Mast Restaurant in Okauchee plans to open Tuesday. The business had also been gearing up for a May 26 reopening and is almost ready, but didn’t want to jump back in on what would be a busy Friday where it would be challenging to make both customers and employees feel safe, said Lisa Marks, general manager and third-generation family member.

“We really want to establish a comfort zone for our staff, go through what that looks like to them, what precautions they’ll be taking, what they can expect,” she said.

Using state guidelines that would be in place if it was’t for Wednesday’s decision, Marks said, Golden Mast has separated its dining rooms with wood partitions and French doors as well as six feet between each table.

Marks said customers started phoning the restaurant early Thursday morning, asking if they would be open on Friday. One customer asked if they could book their 200-person wedding in June.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Marks. “While it seems like it’s a free-for-all for 24 hours or a couple days, we all know those guidelines are still going to be in place, and it’s not prudent to open everything back up with no restrictions.”

Other restaurants that are waiting to reopen, according to social media posts, include but are not at all limited to Lucky’s at the Lodge in Muskego, Doc’s Dry Dock in Pewaukee, The Cheel in Thiensville and Tofte’s Table in Waukesha.

Get more news and insight in the April 27 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.

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