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Rising rent and supply costs force 70-year-old West Allis family restaurant to shut down

Posted at 6:27 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 19:27:48-04

WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A West Allis market and restaurant is getting ready to close its doors for good after more than 70 years in the community. The West Allis Fish Market’s last day will be Oct. 22.

News of the closing had the lunch-time crowd a little sad and nostalgic as they enjoyed a Friday fish fry to go.

West Allis fish market
Melissa Thompson (left) and her mother Bev Rogge, the owner of West Allis Fish Market talk about why the business has to close.

“It is the best fish ever. It is phenomenal. I have been coming here since I was a little kid. My mom said she used to walk her from a mile and a half away when she was little in the 50s to pick up fish for Friday night,” said customer Mike Strangfeld.

“I’ve been in the neighborhood for 50 years and they just have the freshest fish. And I always buy the fish and fry it at home,” said customer Sharon Popa.

West Allis food market outside
The view from outside West Allis Fish Market looking in as customers wait for their food.

The West Allis Fish Market feels almost like a barber shop. You order at the counter and then head to one of the few wooden chairs on the wall.

“Yep, you take a seat, wait for like five to seven minutes, then it’s up. It’s hot, fresh, it’s very good,” said customer John Zentgraf.

Bev Rogge bags shrimp for a customer at West Allis Fish Market.

The business has been around since 1950. Bev Rogge and her husband have been running the place since the 90s. Their daughter Melissa Thompson has pretty much taken over.

She says the cost of fish and the products they use are rising. On top of that, their rent is rising to levels they cannot afford. Even though their sales are actually booming, and have been all during the pandemic, their profit margins are next to nothing.

“With the cost of everything, it is just not doable anymore, not real profitable,” said Bev Rogge.

“How much can you raise the prices before you end up not selling anything,” said Thompson.

Melissa has seen prices for everyday items nearly double. Their take-out containers have gone from $10 a pack to $17.

Melissa Thompson works on a customer's order at West Allis Fish Market.

The cooking oils have gone from $23 a can to $43. And they need six cans just to turn on the fryers.

The cost of oil has been skyrocketing for a mix of reasons, from weather in areas oil is produced, to rising global demand and the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those food containers, a raw material shortage during the pandemic slowed production, making them harder to come by. The rising demand for even more drove up prices.

“I haven’t had catfish in two months. Some of the supplies are getting harder to come by,” said Thompson.

The National Restaurant Association says 95 percent of restaurants have been impacted by supply chain issues. And 76 percent are doing worse now than they were three months ago. For Bev Rogge, it means an early retirement. But she hoped that the restaurant would be passed on in the family.

“All along we hoped she would inherit the fish fry business, but with everything going on here it just isn’t working out,” said Rogge.

The community is coming in and saying their goodbyes and thank yous to a business and a family they have enjoyed for decades.

“I’m going to miss them terribly,” said Popa.

The family is considering starting a food truck. You can follow them here on Facebook for any updates.

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