Back in business
Clear Water Harbor opens its doors
By Greg Seubert
It’s a day that a lot of people circle on their calendar each year.
One of the first signs that summer isn’t that far off is the reopening of Clear Water Harbor, a popular bar and restaurant on the Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes.
COVID-19 pushed this year’s opener back a couple of weeks, but the owners were able to open the doors earlier than expected after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the state’s Safer at Home order.
“We always opened the third Thursday in April,” said Maureen Mondello, who owns the business with her siblings, Ryan and Caitlin Meighan.
“At the time, that appeared to be when the peak of the virus was going to be in Wisconsin, so we decided not to open then,” she said. “We were going to hold off a couple more weeks hoping there was going to be a little more guidance and hopefully the cases would be going down.”
The Harbor opened up with limited service two weeks ago.
“We did decide to open a couple weeks later than normal with takeout only,” Mondello said. “We had to do a new website with online ordering, which we’ve never done before. We had extra staff here to run food out to peoples’ cars and boats so they didn’t have to come into the building if they didn’t want to.”
Harbor opens after court ruling
The Harbor’s doors opened May 14, one day after the Supreme Court’s decision to rescind the Safer at Home order, which was scheduled to expire Tuesday, May 26, one day after Memorial Day.
“The law went into effect (May 13),” Mondello said. “We had people come in and we were turning them away. We just weren’t ready. After we closed Wednesday night, we removed the bar stools and the seating. We didn’t even have our beer coolers on until this morning (May 15). We’re just opening our deck bar, we didn’t have that. We didn’t think we’d be able to do this for a while. As much as we’ve been preparing for it, we were caught a little off-guard as to how fast we were able to do a limited opening.
“I don’t even have menus printed right now because so many other places were closed and I couldn’t get them,” she said. “I was like, ‘No big deal, take your time, we’re not opening for a while.’ I’m printing throwaway menus throughout the day and we have a QR Code so people can scan the menu and share it if they have a cellphone.”
Mondello and her employees made several changes to get ready for the restaurant and bar’s 41st season.
“We took out over half of our tables to make them over 6 feet apart and we have a rule of no more than six people at a table,” she said. “We took out over half of our bar stools. Our biggest thing is we want to keep our staff safe and we want customers safe and to feel safe. I’m hoping that since most of our seating is outdoors, that we’ll be able to keep up with a decent amount of volume while keeping people spread out and separated.”
Boat cruises on the Chief Waupaca, a double-decker sternwheeler, and the Lady of the Lakes, a motor yacht, are going to be part of the season, according to Mondello.
“The state recommendation is no more than 50 people and we have that down to 40 people on our cruises to make sure they’re extra-safe,” she said. “We’ll add a few more cruises in there so people can still go. There are so many different protocols as far as sanitizing between each cruise. We’re going to have markers on the docks and gravel areas for 6-foot spacing.”
Cruises start Memorial Day weekend
“We’re actually going to use the Chief on Sunday to put a band on and do a concert for the lake from 3 to 7,” Mondello said. “We canceled our inside band for Memorial weekend. We’re just not that comfortable having that many people inside. We have lines inside the restaurant for people coming up to the bar so they’re 6 feet apart. I’m thinking that most people are going to feel more comfortable outside, anyway.”
The Harbor employs as many as 150 people, Mondello said.
“We have an amazing staff,” she said. “Our general manager and our kitchen manager have spent hours and hours in meetings, researching and trying to figure it out. It seems that every time we learned something, something changed. At our morning meeting, we’re like, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing right now.’ By the afternoon meeting, things might completely change. We had to decide what we wanted to do what was best for our staff and our customers. I’ve gotten lots of calls from other restaurant owners asking what we’re doing so we’re all kind of on the same page.”
The idea of not opening at all this year didn’t enter Mondello’s mind.
“We knew we’d be able to at least manage takeout orders with our docks, our boat traffic,” she said. “I knew we’d be able to open, but my worry was at what capacity. We typically staff about 150 employees and that was also weighing on us heavily. Are they going to have a job? They count on their summer income. That was a big concern for us.”
A list of the Harbor’ events can be found at www.clearwaterharbor.com and on its Facebook page.
“As much as some people are super-ecstatic and can’t wait to get out, there are others that are really cautious and don’t want to come out,” Mondello said. “We had a lot of really happy people that came out (May 14).
“I’m sure other people who would normally be here on our opening day just aren’t ready for that,” she added. “Not everybody’s ready yet, but they’re still willing to come out and order food to go, which is great.”