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Nearly half of Wisconsin restaurants consider shutting down, local chefs call on community for help

The COVID-19 pandemic presents daily challenges to the restaurant industry as owners do their best to keep the doors open.
Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 11:07 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Local chefs are calling on the community to support restaurants, as 46 percent of Wisconsin restaurant owners are considering closing their doors until the pandemic ends, according to a Wisconsin Restaurant Association survey.

A local, award-winning chef said the future of Madison’s food scene is in the communities’ hands.

“I love cooking, just for the sake of really harnessing all of my personality traits,” Daniel Fox, Heritage Tavern owner, chef said.

Since his 20s, Fox knew he’d spend most of his life in a kitchen.

“I ended up cooking more for my friends and family and peers instead of studying on my general classes,” Fox said.

He dropped out of college and took his talents to culinary school. His hands-on training began at a top-rated French restaurant in Chicago.

“They’re closing because of the pandemic. It’s crazy. It’s where I cut my teeth at Everest,” he said.

Fox also worked in restaurants abroad in Austria and France before starting a new chapter in Madison.

In 2011, he founded Fox Heritage Farms to raise heritage breeds of pigs.

Captivated by the food scene, Fox landed an executive chef role at the members-only Madison Club for 8 years before going out on his own.

“I was fortunate enough to open my own restaurant here in Madison and follow my dream,” he said.

Fox was Madison Magazine’s 2013 Chef of the year, and a James Beard semi-finalist for the Midwest region from 2015-2017.

Heritage Tavern opened in 2013. 7 years later, his dream was put on hold.

“It’s been incredibly difficult and very intense process. It’s exhausting,” Fox said.

The covid-19 pandemic brought challenges Fox didn’t see coming.

“Closing your doors for two months, not allowing everyone to come in, pivoting to put food in boxes, doing curbside pickup, running delivery,” he said. “A lot of our initial menu, really wasn’t designed to go into a box and travel.”

Fox had to revamp his menu and hope for the best.

“I rely on my team wholeheartedly. We have such talented cooks and staff here,” he said.

It was a crossroad most owners had to come to: adapt or throw in the towel.

“I cannot say this enough and I can’t stress this enough. We all need your help,” Fox said.

“We have a virus that we still need to control the spread and so on, but the impact on restaurants has been particularly brutal,” Kristine Hillmer, Wisconsin Restaurant Association president said.

She said time is ticking and funds are running out.

“All restaurants at this point have probably gone through all of their PPP funding or at limited capacity,” Hillmer said. “Congress is still discussing so there’s still hope, but we don’t know if there’s going to be any federal funds.”

Based off a WRA recent survey, 37 percent of restaurants in Wisconsin will shut down if they don’t get federal funding in the next six months.

“Every dollar that comes into a restaurant, 95 to 97 cents of that are already spoken for in terms of the product, making the meals, overhead, staffing costs and so on, and that’s during a good time,” she said.

Hillmer said right now making a profit is nearly impossible and restaurants closing has a domino effect on the community.

“If they go out of business, the impact on those small communities. We also know that restaurants are so giving to their communities,” she said. “The impact of losing restaurants is going to be felt, and it’s going to be an immense impact.”

Fox explained he and other chefs in the community are doing their best to keep the doors open, but they can’t do it alone.

“This is my life’s work here and to watch it all potentially go away in a matter of months, it’s very scary,” Fox said. “I love Madison. I love the food scene here. I love my peers. I love the other chefs in this town. I know together we will get through this.”

There are a variety of ways to help keep local restaurants alive. Local chefs ask the community to dine in, order curbside pickup or buy gift cards.

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