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Marinette chef fights to keep restaurant alive by developing creative strategies amid pandemic

Posted at 7:14 AM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 08:14:21-05

MARINETTE, Wis. (NBC 26) -- During the pandemic, some restaurant owners have transitioned toward an "adapt or die" mentality.

"The idea of just shutting the doors after all that work I just put in and where I was at a month prior to Covid was just crazy," chef Mike Johnston said.

Mikey's Twisted Plate is located in Marinette, where Johnston serves up homemade soups, sandwiches, and other fare. He says the operations of his restaurant have completely changed during the pandemic, and he's been forced to innovate.

Throughout the past year, Johnston focused his business around online ordering, securing thousands of followers while posting food videos over the past decade.

"I can simply put my idea into marketing and into my food at the same time," he said.

Social media apps like Facebook have been some of Johnston's favorite advertising platforms. But even that hasn't always been favorable.

"One of my staff took his mask off," he said. "We were done serving. Somebody walked in and he was taking a drink of water with his mask off. We got messages galore that my business should not be open [and that] I should be ashamed of myself...that I'm killing people."

But Johnston says persistence has paid off.

"I already had 4,000 followers watching what I was doing and everything else," the 29-year-old Marinette native said. "We're up to about 70 to 80 percent of the business now comes from online ordering."

Without allowing a dine-in option for nearly a year, Johnston asked his servers to play a role in delivering food. He says, in some ways, the pandemic has actually helped him expand his business strategies.

"No business, not even Domino's, delivers out in Menominee and certain parts of it," he said. "And I said I didn't care. I'll take all the long deliveries. I'm the owner and I got the car. Let's go."

Johnston's restaurant opened just a few years ago. He says he's grateful to those who have adapted along with him, keeping his dream alive.

"You can't just serve anymore," Johnston said. "You can't just do that. And that's what I enjoy and I love about my staff that I have now. They don't care what they do. They're just here to help me."