In nearly five months of driving highways and byways across the country, "Going Out of Business" signs have seemed a standard element of the modern American landscape. I barely notice them anymore, even those hued in sense-shocking shades of florescent with four-foot letters screaming "EVERYTHING MUST GO!". At the 243 T-junction entering Osceola, Wisconsin, I make an uncharacteristically complete stop as my mind demands processing time for the unusual sight of a "Grand Opening" banner.
The driver behind me breaks the moment with a perturbed bleat of car horn. Still unsure I'd read the sign correctly, I circle through a gas station parking lot and return to the intersection for a better look. Peering through the darkness, I look for the numbers 2009 on the "Oktoberfest & Grand Opening" advertisement of a local bar and restaurant called Tippy Canoes. My planned route turned south at Osceola, but plans change when there's a party to attend, so I head north to go find out how the owners have managed to launch such an endeavor under the current economic circumstances.
Pulling into the packed parking lot of Tippy Canoes, I can hear Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" blasting from a canopy set up outside the restaurant. One minute wandering through the tent endows me with deep admiration for the local stock's endurance in bone-chilling cold, though the flowing kegs of beer and buckets of fire must help somewhat. Co-owner Allison Bahr is pouring drinks at the crowded bar inside, but I track down her affable Aussie husband of 13 years and new business partner, Rodney, who takes a break from chatting up guests to tell me their story.
Rodney opened a pizza place at age 16 in his small hometown down under, and Allison hails from a family of bar and grille owners. Together they've nurtured a dream to open their own place, as Rodney explains: "Allison and I have a long business background, we just thought that our energy, ambitions and positive effort would be best spent working self employed, rather than for some alternate entity."
The Bahrs began actively looking for a location to make their own two years ago before the recession had begun to really cripple commerce. They couldn't put their dream on hold simply because the larger economic landscape looked dismal, particularly not this summer after they assessed possibilities for the building now called Tippy Canoes, which had been empty for six months after the previous restaurant went out of business--a casualty of mismanagement more than anything else, according to Rodney. "We got what we felt was a great price, followed by great terms with minimal monies down, a building with huge growth potential in a sizeable and reputable town that needed a restaurant, followed by its location on a main highway of 12,000 cars per day and the fact that it was just one hour from the Twin Cities and located next to a hotel. We felt it was finally the right fit to put our blood, sweat and tears into."
The real estate investor who owns the site wanted to fully unload the property, but the current state of commercial credit blocked standard routes to financing the purchase, so the property owner offered to negotiate terms for a land contract. "He said it was a land contract, or nothing," Rodney recalls.