How have Ripon restaurants stayed afloat amid the pandemic?
In December 2020, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association warned that 46% of the state’s restaurants were at risk of closing until the pandemic passed.
That didn’t happen in Ripon.
Ripon Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jason Mansmith attributes the resilience of Ripon’s restaurants to their ability to adapt.
He pointed to many restaurants that pivoted to allow for delivery and curbside pick-up during the Safer-at-Home period, when eateries closed for dine-in service.
“They’ve really promoted those things, and they were able to put those in place with the team that they have, and they were able to make it work to be successful,” Mansmith said.
In reopening, Mansmith noted that many of Ripon’s restaurants have had to overcome a variety of other challenges, such as staffing shortages and supply chain hiccups.
“We’re seeing a little bit of that,” he said. “That’s a pain point for some of them for sure.”
Several of Ripon’s restaurant owners and managers attribute their ability to remain open to loyal customers, who continue to “shop local,” and to dedicated staff.
At Knuth Brewing Co., owner Dave Knuth said the business’ brewery was able to continue supplying craft beer to grocery stores, liquor stores and other restaurants during the Safer-at-Home order.
He noted that the restaurant also “did a good amount of carry-out business” when it couldn’t fill its beer hall.
“We’ve been pretty blessed and fortunate that we were in a good position financially beforehand,” Knuth said. “Since then, it’s only strengthened our relationship with the people who support us.”
Since reopening for dine-in service, he said the biggest challenge has been shortages in the supply chain.
“I don’t know that it’s unlike any other challenge we’ve ever experienced in our history,” Knuth said, noting the brewery has overcome various obstacles since opening as it has tried to expand each year. “There’s always challenges; this is just another one.”
Down the street, Kristina’s Family Cafe was forced to close its doors entirely due to the safer-at-home order. It chose not to offer pick-up or delivery services when its dining room closed.
Since reopening last June, the restaurant has implemented mitigation strategies, such as masking and additional cleanings, to keep customers healthy.
“We wanted to keep our customers safe and keep the business open,” said Dita Amiti, a manager at Kristina’s Family Cafe. “Just last week, we had a customer from Princeton who said, ‘This is the only restaurant I go to because you keep everything so clean and sanitized, you wear face masks to protect not only yourself but your customers also.’”
In the last year, Kristina’s says business hasn’t seen a significant decline compared to pre-pandemic times.
“Kristina’s has been here for over 20 years in the same location, and customers knew what we were doing, so they just felt comfortable by coming in,” Amiti said, noting those loyal customers have kept the doors open.
Kristina’s also has been dealing with supply chain issues, but nothing that would force the restaurant to close, according to staff.
One restaurant that did pivot to offer delivery for the first time was Ripon Family Restaurant.
“We really had never done delivery, but we really had to re-think our whole operation,” manager Limi Ahmedi said, noting overwhelming support from the community was essential to keeping the business running when the dining room was closed.
In reopening, Ahmedi noted the restaurant’s biggest problem is a lack of staff. He said Ripon Family Restaurant has a group of “core” staff members who serve as the restaurant’s “backbone.”
“Staff shortages are our biggest concern,” Ahmedi said. “We have a core group of servers that are like family to us. They are the sole reason we can serve food to our customers right now.”
What this means for you:
While the last year and a half has been difficult for many, Ripon’s restaurants largely have a positive outlook on the future of their businesses.
“I feel very optimistic about the future,” Knuth said. “We’re continuing to grow and we’re seeing new customers everyday. We’ve had a great summer.”
Likewise, both Kristina’s Family Cafe and Ripon Family Restaurant have positive outlooks as well.
Ahmedi praised the Ripon community for rallying to support the city’s local restaurants during a time of uncertainty.
“We have a pretty unique culture here in terms of supporting one another. Ripon’s like one big family,” he said. “Everyone wants to support one another and see each other succeed. That’s something Ripon has that many other cities don’t.”
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Mail: 303 Watson St., Ripon WI 54971, P.O. Box 262, Ripon WI 54971