Don’s Diner is now Don’s Liquor and Grocery store.
StandEatDrink Hospitality Group
Don’s Diner was a popular restaurant – and until the Wisconsin governor closed down restaurants and bars on Tuesday, restricting them to curbside pick-ups and deliveries– had been a popular hangout in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee.
But instead of just shutting down dining, the owners and managers decided to make a pivot – turning the kitschy and hip restaurant and bar into a combination liquor and grocery store. Don’s Diner is now Don’s Liquor and Grocery.
“We recognized we had a great opportunity to do something different and positive with our establishment,” says Sean Wille, director of marketing and public relations for the StandEatDrink Hospitality Group, which owns the restaurant. “We’re able to provide necessities and supplies for people in the area.”
On Monday morning, when the restaurant group received word that all dine-in operations were to close, the managers and owners met to discuss their options, and they decided on converting the newest restaurant in their group to a liquor and grocery store. “We decided on Monday morning, and by Tuesday, we had employees emptying and clearing out the restaurant, and then they built the shelves,” Wille says. “On Wednesday, we were stocking the shelves and getting signage up and getting a plan in place on how to run a grocery store, which we had not ever planned on operating, but here we are.”
Don’s Liquor and Grocery opened its doors at 11 a.m. Thursday, and it’s now open from 11 .m. to 7 p.m., and besides liquor, groceries and take-out, the store sells necessities like hand sanitizers, cleaners, and, yes, even toilet paper. “We have different suppliers in place than traditional grocery stores,” Wille says, adding that customers are limited to four rolls of toilet paper, but it’s there if people need it.
The store also sells frozen pizza, spaghetti, chips and other groceries, and it also puts together gift packages. One gift basket is the Walker’s Point gift basket, which is filled with six rolls of toilet paper, a bottle of hand santizer,s a roll of paper towels, frozen pizza, Pringles and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
Like other grocery stores, it has online and call-in ordering options, but unlike regular grocery stores, it has bottled cocktails from its restaurant group. For example, Don’s inventive milkshakes can be made non-alcoholic to go, with small bottles of liquor for customers to stir in, and the store also sells a bottled version of its popular sangrias at Movida and Hotel Madrid. “It’s been amazing,” Wille says. “The support we’ve received is very moving.”
Besides selling to locals, many service industry professionals who are out of a job have reached out to Don’s, where more than 50 people have donated gift cards so these people can purchase their necessities. “We’ve had a couple of very generous donations of $100 or more,” Wille says, adding that the company’s staff has also been working with some local nonprofit groups to also help people in need.
“Given everything as of today, as we in the restaurant industry look to find solutions, I’m reminded of an uplifting quote by Mister Rogers: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,” Wille says. “We’re trying to do our part.”