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Monk’s Bar & Grill in Verona closes, 'the employees just basically left us'

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Monk's burger

Once the Verona Monk's property gets redeveloped, its owners plan to put in a quick, counter-service Monk's with a drive-thru.

Monk’s Bar & Grill in Verona closed May 1 after 5½ years, with the loss of its manager and kitchen staff, said co-owner Greg Frankov.

“The employees just basically left us,” Frankov said.

Frankov and his business partner, Greg Hedrich, who operated the Verona restaurant, own the property and Frankov said they’re waiting on final approval to redevelop it and turn it into a mixed-use building with apartments and commercial space.

They had planned to keep the restaurant open until then, and Frankov said their plans may have influenced employees to leave. “I don’t know that for certain, but that might have happened.”

He said the remaining 15 to 20 Verona employees were offered jobs at the Middleton or Sun Prairie Monk’s restaurants.

Frankov said the manager, who had been with Monk’s for eight years between the Middleton and Verona restaurants, left to go into construction. He left April 30, and the next day none of the kitchen staff showed up for work, he said.

“I don’t know if it was a worker shortage issue or if it was a manager shortage issue. I wouldn’t even know how to go about trying to describe what happened there,” Frankov said.

He said construction on the apartment building won’t start until at least March because of construction costs.

Frankov said his Middleton and Sun Prairie locations are so busy that he wasn’t able to pull employees from those restaurants to help in Verona. “We didn’t have enough employees to go around to keep that one open.”

He said once the new building is built, they plan to put in a quick, counter-service Monk’s with a drive-thru.

Change coming

Frankov said that at the National Restaurant Association Show May 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago, which he attended, the two main focuses were on robots and plant-based foods.

“In the next five years, the whole restaurant industry is going to change because they have all of this technology coming to market that we’re going to have to use because of the worker shortage,” he said.

“The elephant in the room right now is that the loyal employees are getting so burnt out because there’s not enough employees out there to staff the restaurants that they’re at burnout level. And it’s not only our restaurant. It’s all of the restaurants in Madison. Every restaurant is affected by this.”

He said he doesn’t have the same problem at his restaurant in Plover, 100 miles north of Madison.

“It’s only the Madison area because there’s such a boom in Madison right now. And we’ve lost our employees to other industries,” Frankov said. “It’s just sad what’s going on in the industry right now.”

Robot tested

Frankov said he tested a Servi robot from California-based Bear Robotics at the Sun Prairie restaurant starting in March and some employees took offense to it. “They didn’t realize it was there to help them instead of taking away their jobs.”

He said he removed it after two months and will instead try it in Plover. “The labor market’s so fragile that I didn’t want to keep offending people.”

Frankov said the robot was used mostly on Saturdays when with two clicks it would take carryout orders to the host stand instead of directly to customers in the dining room.

He said it worked but wasn’t perfect, often having issues with “relocating,” the robot equivalent of buffering, getting stuck in areas of the dining room when someone was in its path.

Frankov said he’s been renting Servi on a 60-day trial for $2,000 and expects that the technology will keep improving.

He said that if the robot costs about $10,000 a year and could eventually replace a food runner, it makes sense. Frankov said he’s hoping his employees in Plover accept it better. “The future’s coming and they will need to adjust to this.”

75 years

Frankov owns the Sun Prairie Monk’s himself, and besides owning the Verona location with Hedrich, also owns the Plover restaurant with him. Frankov owns the Middleton restaurant with two partners who each own 10%.

There are also Monk’s in Wisconsin Dells, Lake Delton and Eau Claire.

Monk’s Bar and Grill was founded by Helen and Gustave “Monk” Heineke in 1947 in the Wisconsin Dells. Tom and Jane Heller took it over in 1982.

The original Dells location is filled with Badger memorabilia — in large part because the Heineke sons were UW-Madison football players in the 1950s.

Last year, Frankov’s Monk’s restaurants, known for burgers, came out with an online spinoff, Wiscow, selling pizza, smoked chicken wings and loaded mac-and-cheese. Wiscow items can also be ordered inside the restaurants.

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