As bars and restaurants navigate the new normal amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, several Milwaukee establishments over the weekend shut their doors to the public once again.
Walker's Point food truck park Zocalo is temporarily closed after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Facebook post Saturday.
That's despite having the "best laid plans and implementation of socially distanced dining, contactless payment system, disinfecting the picnics table, mandatory masking for staff and limited seating," the business wrote.
Although the infected staff member had minimal contact with other staff and no one else has reported symptoms, according to the post, Zocalo plans to use the closure to disinfect the interior of its bar and shared kitchen as well as give staff time to be tested.
Zocalo houses six local food truck operators: Scratch Ice Cream, Mazorca Tacos, Foxfire, Anytime Arepa, Ruby's Bagels and Fontelle's Eatery.
Boone & Crockett, a cocktail bar in Milwaukee's Harbor View neighborhood, is facing a similar situation. The business took to Twitter Sunday night to announce it will close temporarily after an employee's weekly COVID-19 test came back positive.
Owners John Revord, Mitch Ciohon and Shay Linkus will also close their two other concepts Taco Moto food truck, located adjacent to Boone, and Snack Boys on the East Side until all active staff is retested.
According to the Twitter post, the infected employee felt a cold coming on last Monday while the bar was closed.
"In an abundance of precaution, and due to the rising positives around town, we asked him to get retested (he had prior negatives) and kept him off site in accordance with our strict post test 'no negative, no work' policy," Boone wrote.
The owners said they "feel defeated" after efforts to prevent exposure to COVID-19 at their restaurants and being vocal about the city’s proposed mask ordinance, which is set to be voted on by the Common Council today.
Goodkind in Bay View has also shut its doors while staff members get tested for COVID-19, following possible exposure. The restaurant announced on Facebook Saturday that an individual with COVID-19, not a staff member, was inside the building. That person was masked and quickly entered and exited the restaurant.
"We mask, we glove, we distance, we regularly test and we are as thoughtful and proactive as we possibly can be at all times- so, that’s why we’re immediately getting tested again today," Goodkind wrote.
The most recent closures come as positive coronavirus cases are on the rise in Milwaukee County and in the state. According to recent data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, confirmed cases in Milwaukee County have increased 26 percent over the past two weeks. Wisconsin recently reported its largest single-day spike, with 926 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. To date, Wisconsin has recorded a total of 36,942 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
In addition, Comet Cafe on the East Side and Fuel Cafe on Center Street have both closed indefinitely "as both restaurants have struggled to remain financially viable during the COVID-19 health crisis," co-owner Leslie Montemurro told BizTimes in an email on Friday.Comet Cafe closed July 5 and and Fuel Cafe closed July 12. Montemurro did not make mention of any confirmed COVID-19 cases at either location.
She is part of the ownership behind Milwaukee-based restaurant groups Mojofuco Inc. and Toro Toro Toro Inc., which also operate BelAir Cantina, Fuel Cafe on 5th, Hit Hat Lounge & Garage, and Balzac Wine Bar.
Responding to questions via email Monday, Montemurro said Fuel Cafe and both Comet Cafe locations have historically relied almost entirely on dine-in sales. The group's other restaurants had established carryout business prior to the pandemic, which was helpful when that became the only option.
Neither Comet nor Fuel had seen a single profitable day since reopening for carryout in late April and late May, respectively, she said.
"Staff has been informed of the closures. We hope to resume operating at both locations at some time in the future when it is appropriate to do so," Montemurro initially wrote Friday.
However, it appears Comet Cafe is in dire straits. According to several reports on Twitter, all employees were fired on the last day of operations after concerns were raised about unsafe working conditions, dating back to well before the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a July 11 report, CBS 58 spoke to some of Comet's former employees who claimed the restaurant did not have a proper COVID-19 plan in place, and equipment such as the hood vents had not been working properly, contributing to high temperatures in the kitchen. They brought their concerns to management and were fired a few days later, according to CBS 58's reporting.
Montemurro said ownership first became aware of high temperatures in the kitchen just prior to the weekend of July 4. Days later, they met with some Comet employees who voiced concern about the temperature in the kitchen, the ventilation system and other equipment.The business plans to make the repairs cited by staff, she said, but it's not financially possible to continue operations and pay employees at the same time.
"We realized both Fuel and Comet were going to need to close until they were able to operate at our previous level of service," she said. "In order to stem the financial losses and address the kitchen repairs (at Comet), we need to close for an extended period of time."
She said the business took employee concerns "very seriously," and as a result, won't reopen either restaurant until repairs are made at Comet. But there's no telling when that may be.
"I wish I had a crystal ball, but we will use this time as productively as possible to address the kitchen and equipment issues at Comet Café so we can reopen stronger and with an enhanced experience for employees and customers alike," said Montemurro.