Small Town Restaurants Work Hard to Stay Open During Pandemic

Soft Pines Resort and Buckhorn Bar and Grill among Northern Wisconsin restaurants and bars struggling during shutdown

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Wis. – Restaurants and bars across Minnesota and Wisconsin are struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Businesses in small towns have been hard particularly hard by the pandemic, with at least half of some restaurants’ normal business gone.

The owners are doing what they can to keep the establishments open, but it’s a struggle with no end in sight.

Dee Rosenstiel has owned Soft Pines Resort in Solon Springs for 23 years. She’s cooking everything herself now.

“I’ve been running from noon until eight with the carry-out orders, and if someone calls after eight, I’m here,” she explained.

With her bar and seating areas closed, Rosenstiel has seen a big decline in business.

“It’s about a fourth of what we usually do,” she said.

She tells us her loyal customers have been great, some of them coming in twice a week to pick up ribs, chicken, burgers, and more.

“Some stay in the car,” explained Rosenstiel. “Others come in right here to the door, and I keep the door locked and ask them to knock on the door when they get here so we don’t have so many people crossing each other.”

Meanwhile, the Buckhorn Bar and Grill in Gordon had been getting busier every year under owner Jodene Rose. But she tells us that progress has stopped during the pandemic.

“At least a couple weeks of March we were down by thirty percent the whole month, and so far in April we’re down by about fifty percent,” she explained.

Now, the Buckhorn has started its own marketplace, selling bags of food, off-sale liquor, and cleaning products to customers who may be scared to go to a store in a larger city.

“They don’t want to go to Walmart,” said Rose. “They don’t want to go uptown where there’s so many more people, they just don’t.”

Rose says the Gordon community has been great during the shutdown.

She has kept some of her employees and is trying to give them all the hours she can.

The Buckhorn has been able to defer many of its bills, but Rose doesn’t know how fast business will rebound, even after restaurants are open again.

“At some point, we hope that it bounces back, but the long-term effect of this in our economy, it’s going to hurt,” said Rose. “It’s not going to bounce right back, I really don’t feel that it will.”

Rosenstiel is staying positive, hoping we can all learn an important lesson from COVID-19.

“As the time’s gone on I think that we have taken everything for granted, and I think when this is over, everybody will have a better attitude towards life and a better attitude towards each other,” she said.

Wisconsin is under Gov. Tony Evers’ ‘Safer at Home’ order indefinitely.

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