Coronavirus leads to changes to Madison restaurants
Restaurateur Patrick DePula (standing) talks with Tony Castaneda, not seen, and Jennie Capellaro at DePula’s restaurant Dark Horse in Madison. (Photo © Andy Manis)

New case in Wood Co., Madison restaurants must cut capacity

Update: The Wood County Health Department reports that a person has tested positive for novel coronavirus after recently returning from a cruise. The patient is doing well, isolated at home. 

The coronavirus outbreak continues to impact lives in Wisconsin, with the number of confirmed cases increasing to 33, according to Sunday’s update from the Department of Health Services. 

This is an increase of six cases from Saturday. Five of the new cases are in Fond du Lac and one is in Milwaukee County. Of the five positive cases in Fond du Lac, four people had traveled on an Egyptian river cruise. The other case had traveled within the United States. 

Fond du Lac County now has the highest number of cases in Wisconsin with 11.

On the heels of six confirmed cases of the virus in Dane County reported Saturday and Gov. Tony Evers declaring a public health emergency Thursday, county and city of Madison health officials Sunday afternoon released new guidelines on social gatherings.

Starting Monday, all public and private gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited in Madison and Dane County.

This includes schools, which were previously slated to close Wednesday, museums, religious centers, stadiums, arenas, movie theaters, taverns, health and fitness centers, licensed pools and any other space where people are within an arms’ length of each other for more than 10 minutes. 

While restaurants may remain open, they must operate at 50 percent of their licensed seating capacity. Tables, booths and bar stools must be 6 feet apart. 

Patrick DePula had just finished holding an emergency meeting with key managers Sunday to strategize on how to keep his four restaurants operating in the wake of the coronavirus’ fast-moving entrance into Wisconsin when the news he was anticipating and dreading, dropped.

“We are f—’ed,” said DePula when he heard the news Sunday. “I don’t know how we will survive. We are screwed without some sort of relief.”

The weight of the news drops heavy, a mix of anger for not being warned by county officials, fear of losing his businesses, worry over his employees and worry over the overall state of the situation with a deadly virus spreading across the world. 

Since DePula had a hunch this was coming, he and his managers had finalized a plan earlier Sunday to limit dine-in guests and instead focus on carry-out and deliver orders. Starting Tuesday, all three Salvatore’s Tomato Pies’  locations and Dark Horse, his restaurant that opened on East Washington Street one month ago, will begin accepting orders for next-day delivery, bake-at-home meals. 

For example, if a family wants one of the bake-at-home meals delivered Wednesday for dinner, the order should be placed by 6 p.m. Tuesday. It will then be delivered around 4 p.m. Wednesday. 

“We are trying to figure out how to adapt,” DePula said.

Joe Gaglio has owned Gotham Bagels in downtown Madison since March of 2007.  Married and the father of three, he is nervous about the virus and its impact on financially providing for his family.

“People are coming in the restaurants. They are sneezing, breathing on other people, handling cash … it has to stop,” Gaglio said. “My goal is to limit the number of people inside my restaurant while still staying open.”

To that end, a carpenter was at his restaurant Sunday to build a “sneeze zone” around the counter and open kitchen. He plans to build a half-door that allows customers to order at the door rather than entering the restaurant. The menu is being scaled to save on labor and food costs. 

“This is unprecedented territory in the world,” Gaglio said. “We have to change our mode of delivery to continue to operate, in order to survive.”  

Like DePula, he is calling an emergency meeting with his employees to bring them up to date on the coronavirus-related changes. He said he has several employees that have been with him for more than 5 years. He is going to do his best to keep them employed but others will have to be cut. 

Depula and Gaglio realize the virus has to be contained and social distancing is key for that to happen. But staying financially afloat and making sure their employees also manage the downturn in sales are competing concerns.

“There needs to be some relief from the federal government. If they can bail out Wall Street and big banks, they should be able to find a way to help small business owners,” DePula said. “We are in a position where small businesses cannot take the entire burden. It is not possible.”