March 17, 2020 5 pm.
"Emergency Order #5 Prohibiting Mass Gatherings of 10 people or more."--Tony Evers, Governor of Wisconsin.
The Minocqua Brewing Company had sold all available tickets to our special St. Paddy's Day beer pairing dinner. Our chef had 5 courses prepped, and I had rehearsed for weeks with my friend and accompanist Anne in Wausau to sing Irish tunes as people were eating.
All of this was cancelled because Covid had moved from China to Europe to New York, and people were dying in droves. I was hoping to get one last day of revenues out of the restaurant because St. Patrick's Day was always a huge money maker for us and bars and restaurants across the country. That being said, the Governor made the right decision at the time given the information he had--which was very little. St. Patrick's Day seemingly would have been a massive super spreader event around our state.
March 17th, 2020 marked the beginning of the end of the Minocqua Brewing Company's incarnation as a BREW PUB.
We were in our heyday. We had an excellent chef, an excellent brewer, an excellent general manager, and a live music venue second to none in Central and Northern Wisconsin.
My wife had passed away a year earlier from her 6 year battle with cancer, and although still grieving, I was starting to get back on my feet. Chef Scott and our GM Kaicee had valiantly gotten us back into the black the summer before while I was still not at full capacity. They managed to serve over 900 people a day with the help of a patchwork summer crew of jazz musicians, J-1 visa workers from Eastern Europe, and our core group of local employees.
On March 17, 2020, that all ended.
Less than two months after an amazing period of national unity, while everyone in the country was scared to death of this invisible plague hovering over us, Trump turned Covid political and divided our country worse than its has ever been divided since the Civil War.
The Minocqua Brewing Company became a lightning rod in our little tourist town because I took Covid seriously and was one of the few restaurants that moved our entire service outside for the summer.
As Covid deniers turned up the volume, I became more outspoken about the need to listen to the science, all the while knowing that unless we got a second round of PPP money before the end of the tourism season, I would go out of business.
After Mitch McConnell played political football with that second round of PPP funding, I laid off my staff in September with just enough money to pay the mortgage and keep the utilities on until the next summer.
Little did I know that the enormous Biden sign I put up a month later would change my life and my business's trajectory dramatically.
Fast forward to today. We've got #progressivebeer in 4 states, just released two amazing pro-choice wines from Sonoma with our partner Equality Vines, and have gotten into the coffee business by releasing WOKE with our partners in Madison, Rusty Dog Coffee.
It's been a wild three years, but while writing this post today--I'm happy. Not only is the Minocqua Brewing Company back on solid ground, but it seems like Wisconsin is finally starting to beat back the MAGA craziness that infected us more than Covid ever did.
And while reminiscing about these past three years, I remembered I never got to sing Danny Boy that night in 2020.
So here you go. Better late than never.
As they often say on this day of merriment, "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back."
Kirk Bangstad, Owner Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC