Violations of 25% capacity limit could mean $500+ fines for Milwaukee restaurants

MILWAUKEE -- While the doors might be open at many Milwaukee restaurants, owners face big fines if they don't comply with new COVID-19 restrictions. In some cases, customers are being turned away.

Darnell Ashley

Places like Fred's Frozen Custard can operate at 25% capacity amid COVID-19 restrictions. They decided they're not ready for that -- and are sticking with curbside pickup, while others try to figure it out.

At Ashley's Bar-B-Que, there's one thing that gave owner Darnell Ashley his taste for patience: Meat.

"This what made us as famous as we are," said Ashley.

Times have changed since his dad built the smoker in the 60s.

"Trying to find meat is really hard right now," said Ashley. "We're take out. Order your food. You can go to your car. We'll tell you how long it takes."

The north side restaurant is one of many in Milwaukee navigating a new 25% occupancy restriction that could mean a more than $500 fine if they don't comply.

"I hope it doesn't ever get there," said Claire Evers, deputy commissioner for environmental health with the Milwaukee Health Department. "We hope that everyone is voluntarily compliant, and we hope they understand the reason behind it."

That occupancy restriction is the reason the lobby is closed at Fred's Frozen Custard on Vliet Street -- for now.

"It's such a small little place -- we felt it was just the best option for the customers and team to just stay safe," said Sam Kassel with Fred's Frozen Custard.

"We are patient as far as what we`re doing, waiting this out - hoping things get better," said Ashley. "We were built for the germ."

With food inspectors back out, as of Tuesday, June 9, no one had been found to be non-compliant. If they are, they could face that fine or arrest if they refuse.

As a consumer, you'll notice the occupancy number posted in restaurants -- which could change depending on how the 25% occupancy restriction goes.