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Milwaukee restaurants at odds about statewide capacity limits

Posted at 9:16 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 06:15:47-04

MILWAUKEE — Gov. Tony Evers and the state’s health services department issued a new order Tuesday limiting capacity at all Wisconsin bars, restaurants and stores to 25 percent. Gov. Evers said this is a direct response to curb a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

More than a hundred Milwaukee bars and restaurants have already received approval from the city’s health department to open at full capacity. Starting Thursday, they’ll have to drop back down to a quarter of that.

Carnevor Steakhouse reopened just a couple months ago, but co-owner Omar Shaikh worries the restaurant won’t make it to the end of the year due to the governor’s new restrictions.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to pay our rent. I don’t think we can pay our employees. It’s going to be bad,” Shaikh said.

Shaikh said Carnevor spent months devising COVID-19 safety measures to meet the Milwaukee Health Department’s requirements.

“We researched plans all across the country and have really put it into effect here,” Shaikh said.

After setting each table six feet apart, Carnevor was allowed to serve up to 60 customers at a time. Shaikh said the statewide capacity limits will cut that number in half. Those caught not complying with the order could face a $500 fine from local officials.

Less than a mile away, the general manager of Smoke Shack in the Third Ward welcomes the governor’s mandate.

“It’s about making sure we get to the other side of this,” Rik Acken said.

Acken said they’ll still be able to fill their newly renovated and heated outdoor patio because the state order only applies to indoor public spaces.

“It doesn’t do us any good if we’re part of the problem,” Acken said.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association CEO Kristine Hillmer believes thousands of businesses in the hospitality industry will suffer.

“37 percent of our operators said they will not survive in the next 6 months,” Hillmer said.

Hillmer believes local health departments should be issuing these orders rather than a statewide one-size-fits-all approach.

“There are some pockets where we are seeing some spread and that’s where they need to maybe reduce capacity there,” Hillmer said.

These statewide capacity limits go into effect Thursday and they’re set to remain in place until Nov. 6. Gov. Evers also announced a $100 million business grant on Tuesday. Part of that money is supposed to help struggling restaurants with $5,000 each.

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