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Restaurants try to figure out next steps after Wisconsin judge blocks governor's 25 percent cap on indoor gatherings

Allys Bistro restaurant Menomonee Falls.JPG
Posted at 6:04 PM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 19:06:22-04

WAUKESHA AND OZAUKEE COUNTIES — As of Wednesday morning, some businesses in Wisconsin can operate at full capacity if they want to. A judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking Gov. Tony Evers’ 25 percent capacity on indoor gatherings in the state. Now businesses are trying to figure out where they go from here.

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For the past several months, restaurant owner Rod Zimmerman has limited capacity to 50 percent at Ally’s Bistro in Menomonee Falls. It was his own decision, as Waukesha County doesn’t have a local order regulating indoor gatherings.

“For us, it's all about really understanding and reading our guests, and keeping our employees and our guests safe,” Zimmerman said.

Then last week, the governor issued an order limiting the number of people in bars, restaurants and other public places to 25 percent, as coronavirus cases continue to break records across the state.

“We kind of took a few steps backwards,” Zimmerman said.

By Wednesday morning, things changed again when a judge in Sawyer County Circuit Court struck down the governor’s order, after the Tavern League of Wisconsin filed a motion and lawsuit Tuesday.

Businesses in cities or counties with safety and capacity requirements that are more strict than the statewide order, like the one in the City of Milwaukee, are not impacted. However, those in places which don’t have local orders restricting indoor gatherings, are good to go ahead with their own restrictions.

This includes Ally’s Bistro, along with Sobelman’s Pub N Grill in Mequon, Ozaukee County.

Owner, Dave Sobelman said since May, his Mequon location has only reached about 50 percent three times since May. Otherwise, they rarely see higher than 25 percent. For this reason, he said the governor’s order didn’t have much of an effect.

“Most restaurants aren’t that busy. There’s so much fear of COVID that people aren’t going out to eat,” Sobelman said. “So whatever the governor does especially at this location makes no difference.”

However, he’s happy that a judge blocked the order, so he can take advantage of those days when more customers come through their doors.

“I’m going to take the business where I can get it. I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got staff that need to work,” Sobelman said.

Zimmerman though said he’ll stay at 25 percent for the time being, despite wanting the ruling to stick.

“There's a number of our guests that this is a scary time for them,” Zimmerman said. “If they feel that it should be 25 percent you know we're going to wait and see how it plays out overall.”

Gov. Evers called the ruling “dangerous" and said they'll be challenging it. He and state health officials urge people to take the virus seriously and follow safe practices.

“What we are seeing is not inevitable. We control our own destiny here and we do not have to accept rising case numbers and community spread,” Evers said.

“The order is in place because we are in crisis in the state, and mass gatherings are not a helpful way for us to stop the spread of the virus,” Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said.

Willems Van Dijk also said the order is in compliance with the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision from May that struck down the ‘Safer at Home’ order.

A hearing on the current restraining order and lawsuit will be held in Sawyer County on Monday.

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