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Restaurant opens for last time because of pandemic's toll on business

"This industry is probably going to be suffering for 18 months. That's too long for me to wait," the owner said.

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A restaurant in Okauchee, Wisconsin opened its doors for the final time Tuesday because the pandemic took such a toll on the business.

The owners tried takeout, but with rising food costs, they couldn't keep going.

Experts say restaurants could take the longest to recover from this pandemic.

While the kitchen was busy Tuesday, Between the Lakes owner Travis Meeks knows there's an uncertain future ahead for restaurants.

"This industry is probably going to be suffering for 18 months. That's too long for me to wait," Meeks said.

He has already laid off four employees, and coupled with rising food costs, he made the difficult decision to close for good.

"I can't justify charging people $15, $16 for a hamburger, and that's what I'd have to do to maintain the profit level that we were at before," Meeks said.

"The big tale of the COVID crisis will be how fast consumer confidence returns," said Tim Sheehy, president of metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Sheehy said the hospitality industry will take the longest to recover from the pandemic business hit.

"Some of this change is going to take a long time to recover — well into the fall. Some of it — nothing is permanent, but some of it is semi-permanent because we've learned to do this differently," Sheehy said.

While locals came to support Meeks on his final day, he said he's got four children and can't wait for the restaurant business to bounce back.

"We're leaving with our tail between our legs, but at least we have our tail," Meeks said.

Sheehy said that anything related to travel, such as hotels or conventions, could take a while to recover. They're all related, so if fewer people are traveling that means less business for hotels and restaurants, too.