During summer, Torpy Park on the Island of Minocqua bustles with sun worshipers, kids climbing on playground equipment, swimmers, and young sandcastle builders. For some, though, herding hungry kids back into the minivan for a trip to a restaurant puts a cloud over the fun.
Sue Perron of Park Falls saw an opportunity to capitalize on the dilemma. She asked the Minocqua Town Board that she be allowed to open a small, café-style business in the lower level of the pavilion. Her business would be named The Picnic Spot.
“I just see a vision there, what that building could be,” Perron said. “And how successful it could be.”
Despite some initial doubts, a majority of the board recently agreed to lease the small kitchen space to her for a one-season trial period. Rent will be $100 a week and will cover electricity, sewer and water usage. The board will evaluate the operation after the summer.
“I would be willing to give them a shot,” said Supervisor Bryan Jennings, who noted his earlier opposition.
He said her business would not be a strong competitor of downtown restaurants, although it could impact some sales at the ice cream shop across the street from the park. However, no one has come to the board to oppose the lease. Supervisor John Thompson said the business would be “a benefit to park goers.”
Perron will have to pay for kitchen improvements to bring it up to county health codes, unless either she or the board rescinds the lease before the season is over. Cost estimates for upgrades and cleaning range from $2,000 to nearly $3,000 -- a good portion of that in labor. She will also have to provide liability insurance.
The town will apply for an administrative review permit on her behalf to open the business. Perron plans to offer healthy style food items, including sandwiches, as well as snacks and soda. The board strongly encouraged her to carry Pepsi brand soda, as the town would get credit for her sales. The town gets a price break if they consume certain number of cases over a 10-year-old period.
The Picnic Spot will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and on certain fall and winter holidays if the board approves. The board had concerns about her impact on non-profit fundraising efforts. They concluded she would have to get chamber authorization before she could sell food on days that certain chamber functions, such as Beef-A-Rama, are held. The same holds true when a non-profit group holds an event headquartered at Torpy Park and has its own food sales.
Supervisor Billy Fried had initially proposed a $100 weekly rent, one-year trial period and the town receiving 10 percent of gross sales; however, the latter was withdrawn if Perron covers the code repairs.
The board vote was 4-1 with Town Chairman Mark Hartzehim opposed. Admitting he is perhaps “hyper sensitive to existing businesses,” he said the operation on town property would unfairly compete against established restaurants that pay real estate taxes and have a short window to make money. “It’s not a slam-duck,” he said of the concession proposal. “There have been organizations that have tried it and they found it not necessary worthwhile. It’s kinda high risk with the weather.”