By Nicole Gruter | Photography by Shalicia Johnson
Marcia Castro, co-owner of The Old Fashioned
Walking into The Old Fashioned in early September, the buzzy supper club that specializes in locally sourced, Wisconsin delicacies such as cheese curds and beer, it’s strangely quiet. The typically packed and lively space is mostly empty — tables are pushed against the walls and all of the patrons are seated outside. A small cadre of masked staff circulates inside, filling food and drink orders. With the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately hitting bars and restaurants, The Old Fashioned co-owner Marcia Castro says they’ve had to drastically change their operations.
Although the restaurant offers curbside carryout and distanced outdoor seating, Castro says, “[there’s] no indoor dining or anyone at the bar for the foreseeable future. The capacity [as of today] is 25%, and that’s not feasible. We weigh that reality versus the consequences that can happen, and feel it’s not worth it. It’s about people first.” As the weather cools, she’s not sure what winter will hold for the restaurant. Right now, there are just too many unknowns, she says.
Keeping a slight sense of levity, Castro says she’s joked with her business partner and restaurant co-owner, Tami Lax (Lax also owns Harvest next door), about accommodating indoor seating: “It’s not a party I want to throw.”
A fantastically popular bar and restaurant, limited indoor seating presents an irony of sorts for The Old Fashioned. Castro says, “We know when we open, people will come. Of course, that’s both the problem and the solution.”
Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night food during normal operations, the restaurant once had 108 employees. Now with limited hours and customers, they’re down to 25 staffers. With continually changing conditions, general manager Jennifer DeBolt “is on top of the numbers every day,” says Castro. “She has been the one to do all the training with staff, making sure they’re comfortable and aware of any latest developments.”
But with business down 75%, Castro is hopeful the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 will pass. The act would offer a $120 billion relief fund to help assist independent restaurants (which directly employ 11 million people) survive the crisis. Knocking on wood, Castro shrugs and pensively says, “We’re counting on this help, [and] we’re hoping for the best.”
Thinking about her industry’s future, she says, “What does our country look like if we don’t have our restaurants to celebrate in? It’s about anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and all the memories created.” Economic impact aside, it’s also personal for Castro. “Our patrons are more than just paying customers, and I like to hope they consider us more than just a restaurant.”
To learn more about the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 visit saverestaurants.com.
See more stories from The Ongoing Challenge of COVID-19 here.