Local restaurants face question: What happens when it’s too cold for outdoor dining?

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 2:42 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - For many restaurants in Northeast Wisconsin, outdoor dining has been key this summer to maintaining business during the pandemic.

But days like today, with temperatures in the 70′s, won’t be around for long.

That wasn’t even on Derron Wilson’s mind last September, when he embarked on a journey that would turn into a dream come true.

“I was kind of looking for an extracurricular activity to make money and I know how to cook, so I bought this little charcoal grill and then I put it out at my friend’s bar and then people supported me,” recalls Wilson, who grew up in Jamaica.

Within a few months, Wilson bought a food truck, and by early June, Wilson and his partner Janel Johnson opened Lil Jamaica on Broadway Street, using their outdoor space to create a little tropical getaway during the pandemic.

“We see people come in for their anniversary and people who couldn’t have gone to Jamaica and they’re sitting there, they’re crying, they’re eating, they’re like so happy they have a little of the Caribbean feel,” says Wilson.

“Oh I think that has helped us a lot, I always see people on different social media groups in the Green Bay area, always asking where they can go and sit outside, and even we do that,” adds Johnson.

In Wisconsin though, the days of outdoor dining don’t last forever.

“We have patio heaters but you get into October and then it’s like OK, then what do you do? We’ve already started talking about how we’re going to re-arrange things in the lounge so we can keep people comfortable inside and still put that distance between people,” says Johnson.

But with indoor dining uncomfortable for some, and uncertain depending on the course of the pandemic, Johnson feels offering take-out options will be key for area restaurants in the months to come.

“I think they’ve really adapted well to the to-go, because we order out all of the time, so I think the restaurants in this area have done a really good job with doing that,” says Johnson.

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