These community favorite restaurants found new and creative ways to shake things up in a year of uncertainty
From the hours to the menu to the name, the American Legion Post No. 38’s bar and grill has made a number of changes to reinvent its image to the public.
For one thing, they’re now called Club 38 Bar & Grill. Manager Mike Utech says due in part to the pandemic, he felt it was important to distinguish Club 38’s operations, which are separate from the American Legion. “A lot of people, when they think ‘American Legion Post 38,’ they may think it’s closed to the general public,” Utech says. “By calling it Club 38, it gives a greater indication that we’re open.”
The Club’s current menu fits on an 8 x 11 sheet of paper, and focuses on the American Friday fish fry tradition from perch to walleye to haddock. In April, Utech hopes to expand the menu outside just fish. “You know, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, that type of thing. And then we also spent a good deal of time getting certified as a genuine chicken broaster.” In January, Club 38 expanded its hours of operation to Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
As the Club brings more of the public through its doors, Utech hopes Club 38 provides the space for people to learn more about the American Legion and veterans’ issues.
“What I’m trying to do is let the community know that by supporting the American Legion, they’re also supporting us [continuing] to serve the veterans here in the Valley and beyond.”
New Owners: Old Restaurants Welcome Fresh Leaders
The 2020-2021 year has been a time of transition for our dining scene, with Fox Cities restaurants welcoming four new owners into their ranks. February 20 marked Thong and Yee Lee Vue’s last day as owners of Big Pot and Grill, and Lang Lee Lee, who managed Mai’s Deli, took over ownership in March. Alex Shay, chef at Mark’s East Side, stepped in as owner of Mark’s in January, replacing Mark Dougherty. Frank’s Pizza Palace, which closed October 2018, reopened as Pierri Pizza on April 3 last year under the ownership of Riley Brice, the grandson of Frank’s founder Frank Pierri. Due to the COVID Pandemic, Schreiner’s Diner was initially for sale in December after 35 years of business, but was saved in an ownership change. Lisa Sajdak, owner Paul Schreiner’s daughter, is set to take over the diner by the end of the year.
New Industry: Harmony Pizza Starts Fresh as Fox River Food Cooperative
Harmony Pizza, a restaurant which emphasized organic foods, vegan pizza options, a spirit of inclusivity, and a community gift card that allowed anyone to buy a pizza when they needed one, closed its doors last May. “We were doing okay and then COVID happened,” says Julia Blair, who ran the kitchen at Harmony. “That basically put the nail in the coffin that we weren’t going to see it through.”
This February, however, members of the Harmony team started a new initiative as Fox River Food Cooperative, a new preorder grocery concept. Blair, now a founding partner of the co-op, explains that while restarting a restaurant wasn’t viable, the co-op carries many of Harmony’s philosophies.
“When Harmony closed, I missed the relationship I had with farmers and producers and being able to support them,” Blair says. “With what’s going on in the world, moving toward grocery versus a restaurant felt right.”
Blair describes the member-owned co-op as a shared-effort way to keep organic goods as low-cost as possible. The co-op buys staple goods like flours, fruits, cornmeal, beans, nuts, soy products and coffee from local organic wholesalers. Instead of having paid employees, members participate in quarterly work, ranging from repacking to web maintenance to bookkeeping to marketing. This entitles members to purchase products up to 70% below typical grocery store markup, and 100% below markup for members of color.
Blair says this ends up being a cost-effective model for everyone involved, and it keeps the co-op – whose only expenses are rent and utilities – sustainable.
“The cooperative structure can really weather the storm we’re going through than a more traditional business or capitalist structure,” Blair says. “Everyone’s putting in an effort to be able to buy this food together.”
Fox River Food Co-op is a new startup, but Blair has high hopes for its potential in enhancing local and organic food access to everybody in the Fox Cities.
“I find a lot of value and culture and heritage in bringing that love of food to everybody.”