Staffing woes claim Saukville’s Riverview Inn

Owner Lisa Burich says that without enough employees she will close restaurant founded by her parents 59 years ago
By 
COREY SCHMIDT
Ozaukee Press staff

Lisa Burich was once a little girl wandering from her upstairs home down to the Riverview Inn for a cup of soda. However, her Riverview Inn journey didn’t stop when she left the comfort of her childhood home — it continued as she embraced her family’s legacy as its owner. Now, due to a nationwide labor shortage, the restaurant’s 59-year tenure is coming to a close on Aug. 14.

  “During Covid, staffing was fine but then probably about four or five months ago it started getting worse,” Burich said.

Burich and her staff of six can’t keep up with the restaurant’s demands, Burich said. The restaurant needs around 12 people to properly staff each shift while also giving employees time off.

“I don’t like that we’re closing, but I don’t like the stress of having to find help every day,” Burich said.

Increased ingredient costs is another factor leading to the restaurant’s closure, Burich said. Six years ago she could buy a 50-pound bag of flour for $9, she said, but today it costs $30 per bag. That’s an expense, she said, can’t be taken lightly considering the restaurant goes through 250 to 300 pounds of flour a week.

The Riverview Inn is a family restaurant that was founded by Burich’s parents, Art and Darlene Wille, in 1963 — back when a large cheese pizza was $2.10 — when the couple found an abandoned post-Prohibition tavern built by Francis Roos. The vacant building had no working equipment, but that didn’t scare them away from serving the Saukville community.

Burich remembers when she started working at the restaurant at 9 years old. After watching the business from afar — her father wouldn’t allow the young girls in the restaurant during operating hours — it was finally her time to shine. She said she remembers bussing tables and washing dishes until she was old enough to work the grill.

“As soon as I was tall enough to reach the grill, then my dad said I could start on that,” Burich said. “But I had to be able to scrape the grill so I had to be tall enough to reach the back.”

The family affair continued as she worked alongside her parents and sister Cindy, who previously owned the restaurant. Burich’s father was diagnosed with cancer in 1994 and continued making pizzas. Eventually, Cindy and Burich took over in 1996 until Burich stepped down shortly after until Nov. 2016. Their father died shortly after his daughters took over the restaurant.

The family legacy continued as Burich works with her children today. Her son Luke Streff helps with maintenance, Joey Burich helps with landscaping and her daughter Jessie Streff helps out at the restaurant.

Every year, she and Jessie sit down to brainstorm what innovative pizzas they can bring to the table while also tossing in a few customer favorites. The two premiered several new flavors like Thai chicken pizza and a peach streusel dessert, both of which she said were hits.

“That chicken Thai pizza went over like crazy,” Burich said. “I make the crust and then I made my homemade peanut sauce. Then I have chicken garlic that I would put on it and a little bit of cheese. I would use Havarti and mozzarella cheese. It was so good, and then I’d bake it and put bean sprouts, carrots and cilantro on top and then drizzle a little bit more pizza sauce.”

The pizza’s success led to a Thai chicken quesadilla appetizer, which has been discontinued to help employees keep up with the restaurant’s high traffic.

As Burich prepares to close, she wonders what lies ahead of her. She hopes to keep the Riverview Inn’s legacy alive by making frozen pizzas, something she can do on her own without having to coordinate a staff.

“I have over 100 orders, probably 150, and then I have 30 people to call back yet,” Burich said. “Every day I get calls.”

Burich isn’t looking at selling the property quite yet. The restaurant might reopen if staffing prospect improve, she said. If not, a pivot might be in place.

“I’ve thought over a couple of different business models,” Burich said. “Should I maybe stay in frozen pizza for a while? I can I can manage that myself. I don’t need a staff to do it.”

“I’ve thought about the property too. I could maybe have different events here and do things like that but I’m not sure yet.”

The restaurant, at 3172 N Riverside Dr. in Saukville, will close on Aug. 14 with a customer appreciation party starting 2 p.m. with free cookies, popcorn and corn on the cob. They will also have live music until 5 p.m. with $3 burgers, $2 hotdogs and drink specials.

“I hope to see all our very valued customers this last day of service,” the party poster reads. “It is because of you that we have been able to service the community for 59 years.”

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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.

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