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The last year has been full of ups and downs for Dennis Elert but the Madison native who lives in Poynette is on his way back up with his pasta and pizza sauce.

I wrote about Elert in June 2014 but a week after the article ran, he suffered a series of heart attacks, the first while fishing on Lake Wisconsin. But Elert has recovered and has seen The Sauce King sales continue to grow, not just in Wisconsin but in other markets around the country.

This year, Roundy’s added his sauce to more than 30 Mariano Markets in Illinois, and it will soon be coming to 25 Copps stores in Wisconsin. In addition, 105 King Soopers and 27 City Markets, both owned by Kroger, in Colorado have picked up his brand, and he’s in a network that will allow him to distribute his product nationally as stores are added.

And that’s on top of an impressive roster of other major Wisconsin grocers that have been carrying his product including Woodman’s, Metcalfe’s, Pick ‘n Save, Sendik’s Food Market, Trig’s, in northern Wisconsin, and some Piggly Wiggly stores. He also can be found in smaller retailers in the Madison area.

“This thing has just really, really exploded,” Elert, 61, said. “No one gave me a chance when I started out.”

The former welder has no college degree, but he has succeeded with his enthusiasm for his product and by getting out and offering samples of his product at stores whenever he gets the chance.

Elert, The Sauce King, began selling his gluten-free sauce at flea markets in 2005 while living and working in Mississippi and, ultimately, had 10 stores carrying his product. He stopped making his sauce in 2007 after he moved back to Wisconsin but got back into it in 2009 after he found a manufacturer in the Jefferson County community of Ixonia to mass produce and package it.

From there, it’s all been a steady rise for Elert, who shares the same shelf space as major brands like Ragu and Hunt’s.

“Everything is falling into place,” Elert said.

MOVIE COMFORT: The construction zones are growing at Dane County movie theaters. As a result, watching a movie at the three largest players in the market will be about as comfortable as it gets.

Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres started an ambitious project last week at its Point Cinema on the Far West Side that when completed by late next month will result in leather recliners in all 15 of its auditoriums. The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in mid-December.

In 2013, the theater, 7825 Big Sky Drive, underwent a renovation that included the addition of a Take Five Lounge and upgrades in seating in some of its auditoriums.

The latest work is the second major project by Marcus in the Madison market this year. In late April, the company opened the 12-screen Palace Cinema in the Shoppes at Prairie Lakes in Sun Prairie. Every seat in the Palace is a leather recliner with electric controls while four auditoriums offer food service to every seat. The cinema replaces the 16-screen Eastgate Cinema, 5202 High Crossing Blvd., Madison.

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The AMC Star Fitchburg 18 is also in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation. The cinema, 6091 McKee Road, is converting all but its IMAX Experience into theaters with power reclining seats, new screens, sound systems and is seeking city approval to add a bar.

Seven of the theater’s 18 auditoriums are closed but are scheduled to reopen later this month. Once those reopen, five more auditoriums will be renovated and reopen around Thanksgiving with the final four completed by late this year or early 2016, according to the company.

NEW FEATURES: The Wilderness Resort in Lake Delton is adding two features that should be ready in time for Christmas break.

The first will be two escape rooms scheduled to open next month at the Wilderness on the Lake property. The escape rooms are from D.O.A., an Addison, Illinois, company that includes historical themes in its rooms that are designed to be difficult to exit.

Chris Ebben, the resort’s attractions director, said the rooms can each hold up to 12 people, who will be locked inside and have 60 minutes to strategize as a team to decipher clues and codes and interpret riddles to escape.

“Overall, the escape rooms won’t feel claustrophobic or as creepy as one might expect,” Ebben said. “The vibe will be a fun, intimate environment where you work closely with your whole team, learning and using each other’s strengths.”

The two rooms will be located in an area that had been home to Big Fish Mini Golf. Anyone age 10 and up can take part for $24.50 per room for guests of the resort and $29.50 for non-guests.

The resort announced in August that it was adding interactive Slideboarding systems to two of its water slides in the Klondike Kavern Waterpark.

The Slideboards resemble surfboards with handles with two colored buttons that serve as the game’s controllers. As riders adventure down the waterslide, they encounter a series of flashing red, yellow, green and blue lights. The goal is to press the colored button on the Slideboard that corresponds with the colored light as the board passes under the light. Riders accumulate points on the ride scheduled to open in December.

RETAIL ADDITION: More retail space could be added to the State Street area under a plan making its way through city committees.

M+A Real Estate first submitted its proposal for 7,400 square feet of new retail space at 502 N. Frances St. in 2013, but it was back on the Urban Design Committee’s agenda last week.

Located at the Towers apartment building, the project consists of a two-story addition and basement renovation to provide three levels of retail space, according to documents. Part of the project would be in the parking lot of the apartment building with the facade providing entries for one to two retail tenants. No tenants were identified in the filing, but the space would not be used for a restaurant or bar, according to documents.

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Send retail-related tips and story ideas to badams@madison.com or call Barry Adams at 608-252-6148.

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