Area restaurants fight to stay alive through Covid-19

Carry-out has become a lifeline for eateries, Baltica Bistro closed permanently due to pandemic

EMPLOYEES AT BEANIES Mexican Restaurant & Cantina (from left) Hana Christiansen, Georgia Didier, Katelyn Binsfeld, Taylor Fyhrlund and co-owner Madeline Binsfeld wore festive costumes and masks outside the eatery during Cinco de Mayo on Tuesday, which is typically one of the busiest days of the year for the business. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press Staff

Baltica Bistro and Tea Room has become a business casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the downtown Port Washington restaurant permanently closed after shutting down operations in mid-March when Gov. Tony Evers directed the Department of Health Services to order bars and restaurants to close, except for delivery and pickup orders, and limited gatherings to no more than 10 people.

“Small dine-in restaurants such as ours are not in a position to weather a storm of this magnitude,” owner Urszula Cholewinska said. “When the mandate was put in place, I knew that the revenue from carry-out business wouldn’t have been worth risking the safety and health of my employees, customers and their families.”

Cholewinska said she will pursue a new venture outside of the restaurant industry after owning Baltica for nine years. She said she will miss seeing her loyal customers. 

“I wanted to create a warm and welcoming place that would become a destination for the local community and for tourists, a place for families and friends to get together and celebrate special occasions,” she said. “It has been such a rewarding experience to be part of these very special moments in people’s lives.”

The coronavirus has impacted other area restaurants that are struggling in light of the pandemic.

Lake Church Inn in Belgium has limited its carry-out business to Fridays.

“There’s not enough business worth being open for the rest of the week,” owner Dave Maiman said. “The important thing is we’re keeping people safe by not being open right now. With restaurants and bars having so much close proximity, there’s no way to keep people safe until it’s over.”

Due to the reduced operation, Maiman had to let go of a waitress and a couple of bartenders. 

“Those are the kind of folks who are hurting the most, but they are the most vulnerable,” he said. “If we do this right, they will be allowed to come back.”

Beanies Mexican Restaurant & Cantina in Port tried to make the best of one of its customarily busiest days of the year while celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Tuesday, May 5.  

“We hope to do 50% of what we have done when we have dine in,” co-owner Marcia Endicott said. “We’re holding our own. Business is not like it usually is this time of year.”

Co-owner and manager Madeline Binsfeld said she wanted to commemorate the holiday with festive balloons and signs along Grand Avenue to welcome customers picking up their orders.

“I’m just grateful for any business. We’re trying to think of creative ways to engage people,” she said, noting she is also delivering food to homes.

Binsfeld said she wants to pay it forward to other businesses that aren’t open during the outbreak. On Thursday, May 14, 20% of sales for that day will go to support Le Grand Salon in Port. 

Binsfeld also donated chips and salsa to area long-term care facilities and hospitals throughout April.

Endicott said she had to let go of about 30 part-time employees due to the decline in business.

“It’s not easy to make sure that the people who want to work can work,” she said. “You have to be positive, but it’s discouraging that this has been going on for so long.”

During the downtime, Binsfeld said, the remaining employees are working to update the interior and patio space. Endicott hopes by summer, customers will be able to dine outside because she isn’t sure what implications social distancing will have when restaurants are allowed to seat customers.

At Newport Shores, owner John Weinrich said business has been hit or miss.

“In the restaurant industry, you never know what’s going on. But now, it’s even more difficult,” he said, noting he let go about 30 of his 40 employees. “We can’t keep it up much longer. We’re not set up for this.”

Weinrich has been in business in Port for 30 years and said it has been a bit of a learning curve to change his business to carry-out orders only.

“It’s a lot harder to run a business this way. It’s a whole different ball game just with the to-go container-situation alone,” he said.  

To help offset operational expenses, Weinrich is selling baked goods and liquor.

“We never sold retail like we do now. The dining room is full of hundreds of wines, ciders, beers and liquor. Luckily, our license allows us to sell that,” Weinrich said. “We just want cash flow because we have a lot of inventory.”

Weinrich said several area businesses have called him to order weekly lunches for their employees. He also said several people have donated money to the restaurant to deliver meals to the homebound. 

“We like to stick to the Port-Saukville area, but if someone is in need, we’ll go Fredonia, Grafton or Cedarburg,” he said.

Weinrich said he expects tourism to be affected this summer, but he thinks that will play to Port Washington’s advantage.

“The big vacations are done. We’re not a big-vacation destination, but people in Milwaukee whose trip to the Rhone River got canceled may say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Newport for a burger,” he said. “In times of trouble and in times of inflation and recession, people will still go out to eat and may eat out even more because it is their solace and mini vacation. It’s their chance to get out and relax.”

Weinrich said he is concerned other businesses in Port won’t be able to maintain their livelihood.  

“You’ll probably see a lot of empty buildings in this town soon. We already lost Baltica,” he said.




Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login