Owners hope to reopen after overcoming labor shortage
By Jason Arndt
Mad Dans owners Ken and Susie Perl can only hope for a short-term closure of their iconic restaurant in Twin Lakes.
The restaurant, with its larger-than-life rooftop display of an angler and fish, had its last fish fry on Oct. 15 for the foreseeable future because of staffing shortages and food supply issues.
“Due to these challenging times, with the food and labor shortages, we will be closing until further notice,” Ken Perl said on Oct. 15. Mad Dans, known for its Wisconsin fish fry, originally had 22 employees before the COVID-19 pandemic whittled down the roster to merely eight.
Perl, however, said Mad Dans never had challenges bringing in customers.
“Business is awesome, business is good, but we can’t take care of our customers in a personal and professional manner with the short staff like this,” Kenny said.
“On an average night, we did 350 to 400 fish fries on a Friday.”
Perl, meanwhile, said the COVID-19 pandemic strained Mad Dans.
Mad Dans, like other establishments, weathered state-mandated closures and offered pick-up services to make up for the loss of business.
“The local people around here supported us tremendously ordering to go, but we couldn’t open our doors,” Perl said.
Once Mad Dans reopened, however, Perl said the restaurant unable to bring back most of its employees.
Perl initially believed employees would return once the additional $300 in unemployment compensation expired in September.
“To be honest with you, people got out of the industry and they went into other things, working for Amazon and whatever,” Perl said.
He said Mad Dans did not have any issues finding, or bringing back, bartenders and waitresses.
But kitchen staff, like line and prep cooks, was another matter.
Additionally, since reopening, Mad Dans went from operating six days a week down to three.
“The customers have been extremely loyal to us and they are coming in, but they are overwhelming us, and we can’t serve them properly,” Perl said.
Food prices rise
Perl recently learned many common items such as cod and some bottled beers have come at higher prices because of demand.
“Our cod has gone up $20 a case in one week,” said Perl, who estimated it is about a 24% increase. “A lot of our beer, we can’t even get, certain types of bottled beer, they don’t have them.”
Perl anticipates inflation will continue, noting bottlenecked shipping ports on the west coast, where Mad Dans and other establishments receive shipments.
“That is where all of the ships are waiting to bring stuff in and they said we could be waiting three months before they turn this around,” Perl said. “We are taking a break to see how this comes out.”
Mad Dans, in business for nearly 40 years, began along Lakeshore Drive before relocating to 200 E. Main Street.
The former property was sold to the Village of Twin Lakes and state Department of Natural Resources 16 years ago and now serves as a boat launch and marina.
In 2015, Mad Dans erected a 14-foot-long fish and 12-foot-tall fisherman fiberglass duo in front of its restaurant.
The iconic statute came on a purchase from the Fisherman’s Dude Ranch in Des Plaines, Illinois, which opened in 1956 and closed in 1997.
The Twin Lakes Report in June 2015 reported the Village Board approved the statuesque duo at a special meeting.
“We’re famous for our fish fry, so I think it’s going to help promote that,” Perl said at the special meeting.