PRINCETON — The highly-anticipated reopening of Prime Quarter in Princeton was met with much approval Wednesday.
It was the first time since the pandemic hit in March that patrons could enjoy their savory steaks.
Al Sanger, who also operates Prime Quarters in Green Bay and Racine, Wis., said there were about 95 people on the first night at the Princeton restaurant.
“The reception has been great. Whether it’s Princeton, Ill. or Green Bay, for the most part, the customers have been exemplary. They understand the magnitude of this pandemic,” Sanger said.
Sanger had initially targeted a Sept. 14 reopening for Princeton, but had to push it back a month.
“When this pandemic hit in March, I did not have the magic crystal ball, but I had anticipated we would not see a return-to-normal business until fall,” he said. “Initially, I thought Labor day, school, football. We’d be back to 60-70% of business. It’s not turning out that way.
“We’re seeing continuation of mandates, whether its Wisconsin or Illinois or any part of the country, the individual powers to be, the governors or our health officials, view this through their own ideas. Seems everyone has similar, but dissimilar ideas on how we’re going to protect the public, protect our customers and protect our employees.
“I felt in six or seven months later we’d be out of the woods. Obviously, that’s not the way it’s working out. To operate a business, you have to be careful and adhere as closely as you can to the mandates and yet still try to conduct business.”
The Princeton restaurant can seat over 220 patrons, but is only allowed to operate at 25% capacity at this time.
“We can’t seat more than 50 people, including staff,” Sanger said. “For us to get at the break even point or we start to make money, it didn’t make sense to try to operate under those mandates. So I waited until September and then kicked it down the road to Oct. 14. And here we are. We opened.”
Prime Quarter has had to make adjustments. It is not allowing customers to grill their own steaks in Princeton, which has been a staple of its atmosphere. There is a new deli in the lobby, however, which showcases their cuts of steaks.
“We’re trying to offer our customers a couple different size of steaks which would accommodate the lighter appetite. The people can see the product of what they may want to choose,” Sanger said.
The popular salad bar is open with a sanitizer station required. Patrons may choose to have a chef salad brought to them instead.
“We’re doing everything we can to stay within those mandates the government has set forth. We’re trying to operate as near as normal as possible,” Sanger said. “It’s been a tough situation for all restaurants, small, medium and large. With us, I see our style of restaurants, full-serve restaurant, large capacities, we need to return to 60-70% to our normal business if we are to generate the kind of volume we need to sustain and make money.
“If a restaurant is forced to operate at 25% capacity, and you start turning on utilities, and (pay for) staffing and try to operate under today’s expenses, it’s going to be a long, long haul for these business to stay in business.
“The proof of the pudding will be tonight (Friday), tomorrow night (Saturday), and how we see the numbers from 5 to 10 o’clock.”
At this time, Prime Quarter is not taking reservations, offering dining at first come, first serve base, Sanger said.
“People say, why can’t you take reservations? Well, if we’ve got 50 people in the building and we’re holding tables at any one particular time, it would either dictate we would have to have less people at all times or we’re not going to be honor our reservations,” Sanger said.
“The big thing is trying to keep the customer satisfied, keep them safe and move forward and hopefully by January, February, as a nation, as a county, as an individual restaurant, we will see a gradual return to normalcy. But it hasn’t been easy.”
Sanger said Prime Quarter is taking all the precautionary measures required to help keep everyone safe. Their employees have their temperatures taken every time they start a shift and are mandated to wear a mask at all times.
Masks are available at the reception for guests who may not have one and there are hand sanitizers throughout the restaurant, Sanger said.
Sanger said he utilized the shutdown for renovation.
“Everything we’ve been doing is geared to get these restaurants up and running again. We haven’t sat by idling,” he said.
The Princeton site was the second of three Prime Quarter. Sanger opened the Green Bay restaurant on Oct. 1, which has much lighter restrictions and that patrons are allowed to grill their own steaks following safety measures.
Sanger anticipates to reopen the restaurant in Racine, Wis. in the middle of November.
Prime Quarter has been open in Princeton since 1990. Sanger opened his first restaurant in 1986 in Madison, Wis.