Walker's Point restaurant Don's Diner didn't waste much time figuring out a plan to stay in business after a state order on Tuesday shut down bars and restaurants in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The concept reopened Thursday as Don's Liquor & Grocery, after building out its 1100 S. 1st St. location into a small retail store selling food, bottled alcohol and high-demand items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Repurposing the business allows operator Milwaukee-based StandEatDrink Hospitality Group to sell inventory that otherwise would have gone to waste during the closure. In addition to groceries, Don's is serving up diner favorites like burgers and milkshakes for carryout.
"It's a time to adapt and innovate, and we tried," said Sean Willie of StandEatDrink. "Hopefully it sets an example for people anywhere and everywhere to do something like this."
Staying in business also keeps 15 of its employees working during a time when service industry jobs are in jeopardy.
Altough SED was not able retain its entire employee base, it pulled the 15 existing employees from across its Walker's Point footprint, which also includes Movida and Hotel Madrid, said Willie. The group, some of whom had no previous retail experience, worked to rearrange the space to create grocery aisle, stock shelves and take inventory.
To minimize shoppers' risk, Don's is also selling "ready to go kits," customized by neighborhood. The Walker’s Point basket includes six rolls of toilet paper, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of Paper Towel, frozen pizza, Pringles and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Willie said SED checked with local officials to make sure the shift in operations was feasible under its original Class B Tavern License. The state allows licensees to retail no more than four liters of hard liquor at a time in the original sealed container.
"Everything is changing and I think people are willing to help and see that we're not trying to skirt by and do things in a weird way, we're trying to do things correctly," he said.
The business is awaiting city approval to sell prebatched, bottled cocktails such as Old Fashioneds and Sangria.Don’s Grocery & Liquor is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Grocery orders can be placed online beginning Monday March 23rd.
The business said it plans to operate daily for as long as possible or necessary, but "for now, we’re taking in one week at time."