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Bill “Loopy” Kleich stands outside his restaurant Wednesday in the town of Wheaton. Kleich is offering free meals to the sick and elderly during the stay-at-home order from both his restaurant locations.

CHIPPEWA FALLS — William “Loopy” Kleich had just received a food order for his two restaurants in mid-March when the state implemented the safer-at-home order, which shut down in-person dining. While he still could provide pickup and delivery, his sales immediately suffered.

“We were used to doing thousands of meals a week,” Kleich said Wednesday. “Our sales have dropped 85 to 90%. We’re just trying to survive, like everyone else.”

Kleich wasn’t going to let the food go to waste, and he wanted to help out where he could.

“I went to bed feeling sorry for myself on St. Patrick’s Day,” he recalled. “I woke up, shot out of bed on the 18th, and said, ‘what can I do?’ I knew the elderly would be shut-ins. I had all this inventory and said, ‘I can feed people.’ These people can’t go to a grocery store.”

So, both Loopy’s Grill & Saloon and Loopy’s High Shores Supper Club began cooking meals for the sick or elderly. They begin taking orders at 3 p.m., and they are cooking and delivering between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. each day.

The restaurants have different menus, and they make a handful of different items each day specifically for the free meals.

“We’ll let them choose from four or five different menu options,” he said. “The chef will make them, we’ll box them up, and get them off to people.”

It has typically been a few meals each day.

“We’ll have a few every night; it may be eight or 10,” he said.

People can pick up the meals at the restaurant, but Kleich said his restaurants will deliver up to 10 miles away.

Kleich is stunned by the feedback he’s received on Facebook and from the public.

“The response has been tremendous from the whole community,” he said. “I’ve had donations given to me to help pay for those meals. The comments are so heart-warming, and that’s why I do it.”

His favorite story is when a daughter of a woman tipped off his staff that her mom was turning 75 and needed a warm meal.

“Our staff got her a cake and flowers and a card, and we all signed it,” Kleich said. “She had tears at the door when she got it.”

Getting ready to go

Between the two locations, Kleich usually has 50 employees, most of whom are part-time workers. However, since mid-March, he has reduced staff to just five workers at each restaurant. He has some good days — his Friday night fish fry still has great sales figures — but he is otherwise seeing slow numbers.

Easter has always been a big sales day for his two restaurants. He is taking pre-orders now over the phone or on their website, and they’ll have curbside pickup at the supper club.

“Normally, we’d do 400 meals,” he said. “It’s all pre-paid (meals), so we know exactly how much food to make.”

While he is struggling now, he’s planning to hire back staff and be “ready to go” as soon as the stay-at-home orders are lifted. He is looking at this time of being closed as a chance to “re-set” the restaurants.

“I’d rather have this go on an extra few weeks than open up too early,” he added.

To generate additional money to get through this slow period, Kleich is planning to sell “Loopy’s Legacy Certificates,” which he described as similar to Green Bay Packers stock. If someone buys a certificate, it will be worth $115 once business goes back to normal levels. It will gain $10 in value each year, he added. He plans to hold an annual party for people who buy them.

“It’s to say thank you for getting us through this mess,” he said.