EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE—So much depends upon an old blue bicycle, spattered with rust beside the gray wooden shed.
Sometimes the best things come wrapped in simple packages, like a big flour tortilla. And the best origin stories start from modest, unassuming moments in life.
And so goes the account of one of the area’s favorite burrito niches, Blue Bike Burrito, which, under new ownership, aims to continue its service to flavor-seeking palates and ambitious appetites throughout the cities of Marinette, Peshtigo and Menominee. But if you want the whole origin story, you’ll have to ask the employees or the new owner.
Long-time employee, Grant Dellise, legally took ownership about one month ago after Blue Bike founder John LaPlant relinquished his leadership role, seeking new life opportunities focused more on family and spending time with his young sons.
The cozy, bicycle- and burrito-themed bistro at the corner of Hall Avenue and Jefferson Street in Marinette, flourished from an idea LaPlant seeded in 2006. After collaborating with a group of like-minded friends, the restaurant opened its doors 14 years and four days ago, May 1, 2007.
“We just thought it would be a good fit and fill a space for the area,” LaPlant told the EagleHerald by phone from his new home in Cornucopia, Wisconsin.
At the time, that might have been an understatement for the success and popularity Blue Bike has gained in those 14 years and continues to exhibits, even through the pandemic. Just a year after Blue Bike opened, the nation’s restaurant scene experienced a tumultuous era. According to various sectors of consumer monitoring and restaurant media sources at the time, in 2008, the Dow Jones U.S. Restaurants & Bars Index dropped about 13% as the Great Recession clamped down across all sectors of the economy.
However, as evidenced by the loyal traffic of hungry customers that continue to frequent Blue Bike’s pick-up window each day over the lunch hour during the pandemic, the rolling of its high-quality burritos perseveres through the toughest challenges.
In the early years as owner, much as today, LaPlant credits a portion of that success to the customers
“We’ve had a very supportive and loyal customer base,” he said. “They seem to like what we were doing and they supported us as we tried to run and maintain a restaurant business in Marinette.”
Now, as he relinquishes the unique establishment that he began, he holds nothing but gratitude and optimism.
“(Dellise) is very dedicated and loyal, hardworking and personable and I think all of those things will definitely continue to contribute to (Blue Bike’s) success,” he said. “I am very excited for (Dellise) and I wish him nothing but luck. He has my full support … I think some fresh ideas and a younger person with a little bit more ambition won’t be a bad thing.”
TAKING THE LEAD IN THE PANDEMIC
Restaurants everywhere continue in a state of COVID limbo. According to the National Restaurant Association, in 2020 restaurant sales plummeted by $240 billion from predicted levels. Restaurant workforce at the end of that year remained down 3.1 million workers from expected levels. Furthermore, 110,000 restaurant locations remained temporarily or permanently shuttered at the end of 2020
“This last year has been kind of a weird state of business in general,” LaPlant said.
Regardless of the COVID tumult, what many area residents consider one of northeastern Wisconsin’s burrito utopias continues to ride on its prior success. So, when LaPlant made the decision to sell, he opened the floor to his employees first. Dellise’s interest sparked—he knew something good when he saw it.
“I thought it would be the right time to purchase it from him,” Dellise said. “And I would rather have someone here (take over) than someone else from the outside who is not familiar with (Blue Bike).”
Dellise’s decision and subsequent transition came not without some trepidation, concerning the current state of the pandemic.
“It’s definitely kind of scary, but I feel pretty comfortable with how it is turning out,” he said. “We have online ordering or call-ins for pick up. It’s actually pretty efficient.”
BLUE BIKE CHANGES?
In his transition as the new owner, Dellise explained he plans no significant changes to what gives Blue Bike such a local appeal and makes it a treasured dining icon. He and the rest of the staff strive every day to continue to deliver the same high-quality food, intimate knowledge of customer base and a commitment to service that Blue Bike demonstrated from day one.
As an employee of Blue Bike, the Menominee native, Dellise, first stepped into the wafting, southwestern aromas inside the small restaurant about 10 years ago, beginning his first day on the job. He started out as a dish washer, still attending high school. Perhaps one might contribute some of his decision to seek employment at Blue Bike to the lure of his staple entré of choice: Blue Bike’s chicken burrito. Even before working there, and now, after 10 years at the restaurant, he told the EagleHerald that he eats a chicken burrito just about every day he works.
So when it comes to the rest of the menu, Dellise plans to continue to offer the same high quality, organic ingredients. Upholding that quality stems, in some ways, from the focus on maintaining a small menu.
“I think if you do a few things well, that’s all you would need,” Dellise said. “You don’t want to have an oversaturated menu.”
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?
Providing a quick rundown of those menu items, 10-year employee Samantha Thayer, explained it starts with the option of cilantro lime rice and then moves on to building and rolling the perfect burrito stuffed with the customer’s choice of palate-pleasers. Those ingredients include organic beans (black or pinto), organic grass-fed ground beef, seasoned chicken and steak. And one can’t forget the chorizo made with secret ingredients. The flavors don’t stop there, customers can continue to load their creations with additional garnish choices. Bulking up the burrito on the inside or out with grilled veggies, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, various types of salsa and a special roasted jalapeno sauce can create a bounty of complementing flavors.
After 10 years at Blue Bike, Thayer admits that what makes it such a great place to work and eat goes far beyond the food.
“I love that (Blue Bike) is different than other places that are in town,” Thayer said. “It’s pretty obvious that our stuff is really fresh … there’s just a really nice vibe here … the people that work here are friendly. And our customers are really nice, really genuine.”
As LaPlant departs a business that, in a small way owes its success to an old blue Schwinn bicycle that contributed to coining a name “that’s got a good ring to it,” he feels content.
“I have nothing but gratitude,” LaPlant said. “I am extremely grateful for the 14 years that I was able to own and operate a successful restaurant in town and all the wonderful people I have met and the friendships I have established.”
MADISON, Wis. —Vice President Kamala Harris toured clean energy laboratories on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus Tuesday and touted President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan during her first visit to Wisconsin since taking office.
Wisconsin Republicans said Harris’ time would have been better spent at the U.S. border dealing with the increase of migrants trying to cross from Mexico.
Harris also participated in a roundtable discussion about the investments in research and development proposed in Biden’s infrastructure jobs plan, which would rebuild roads and bridges, boost broadband access and make other improvements. Harris was joined by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, university and business leaders, researchers, teachers and others on the visit.
Harris has been touting Biden’s plan, unveiled in March, at stops across the country. In Milwaukee, she emphasized the $180 billion in proposed funding for research and development. Speaking at the roundtable, Harris said that would be the largest amount spent on research and development, other than in the military, in the history of the United States.
Harris said the U.S. has fallen behind in recent years and that it must be able to compete—with universities playing a big role—to pursue innovation that will improve the lives of American families.
The labs Harris toured focused on wind tunnel and wind turbine research, and sustainable energy research on microgrids and batteries. Harris was told about one research project at UW-Milwaukee aiming to reduce the time to recharge an electric vehicle battery to just 15 minutes.
Gov. Tony Evers and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett greeted Harris in Milwaukee. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul, all Democrats, watched the roundtable discussion.
Republicans used the Harris trip to renew their criticism of Biden’s infrastructure plan as too costly.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, in a statement Tuesday, called Biden’s plan a “boondoggle” and said he was interested to see how Harris justifies the spending.
“Instead of creating more opportunities, it will kill people’s jobs, increase their taxes, and further implement radical leftists’ agenda,” Johnson said. “Happy to have her visit Milwaukee, but she really ought to inspect the crisis President Biden created at the border.”
Early Tuesday, two Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders who recently visited the U.S. border in Texas sent Harris a letter criticizing her for not visiting southern border states. Biden has put her in charge of diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration to the U.S.
“We appreciate the visit to Wisconsin; but, respectfully, you have much bigger problems to deal with right now,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August wrote. “As the person who is supposed to be the most qualified to address this issue, we implore you to start taking action now to help our southern border.”
The lawmakers also called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to do more to help secure the border, including sending aid. Texas has not asked for National Guard troops from Wisconsin, but in 2018 then-Gov. Scott Walker sent dozens to assist at the border. Evers withdrew Guard troops from the region shortly after taking office in 2019.
No taxpayer money was used for the border trip, which Steineke said was paid for in part with campaign donations. August said they were invited by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.They called immigration at the border a “humanitarian crisis” that would affect Wisconsin and the entire country because people trying to enter there spread out nationwide. Steineke and August said local officials, including a Democratic county sheriff, said they are desperate for help.
“This should not fall on the backs of southern border states themselves,” Steineke said. “It’s just as much about our security as theirs.”
EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE —Holes in the roof, broken porch steps, shattered windows, dilapidated garages, fire damage, collapsed roofs and abandoned properties overgrown as the natural environment begins to reestablish its hold … and the long list of property code violations goes on. Some of those violations date back to March of 2019 with no action toward compliance despite repeated notices and citations from the city.
Such properties are scattered through the City of Marinette and can pose serious health and safety issues, not to mention the eye soars they inflict on residents of the neighborhood. City Building Inspector Curt Demlow pointed out that when an abandoned property sits for long periods of time, it grows derelict and poses risks to curious children who might venture into the structure. It can serve as a shelter to wild animals and pose many other hazards to an unassuming passerby.
“I would love to see Marinette be a thriving beautiful city again,” Demlow said. “But we have a lot of work to get there. We have a lot of abandoned homes and homes that haven’t been maintained for years.”
A FIRMER HAND
The City of Marinette aims to change that and better address such violations.
During the April Public Safety and Code Enforcement Committee meeting, Demlow and committee members dissected their way through a long list of Marinette properties that city officials continue to monitor for violations. They spent a majority of the meeting addressing each of those code violations line-by-line. And that was only the beginning. The committee plans to continue such monitoring at future meetings as they take a more proactive and timely approach to addressing some of the more grossly delinquent code violations.
Committee Chair Jeff Skorik had previously requested that Demlow present quarterly updates to the committee regarding various properties scattered throughout the city. That list included properties and structures that currently presenting one or more code violations in maintenance and upkeep.
“This is our way to check-in and see where we are with getting progress made on improvements or bringing (those properties) up to codes,” Skorik explained. “The building inspector, through his routine duties or based upon complaints from citizens responds to structures that may be non-compliant … some of those properties have been on the list for quite a while. And it is time for us to take some definitive action on getting those properties, hopefully, up to compliancy.”
In one of the more severe violations, the structure’s roof had collapsed and citations issued by the city dated as far back as March of 2019. And still, those citations remain unresolved.
Sometimes, when a property owner might live outside the state, having abandoned the property with no forwarding address, Demlow and the city confront a big challenge when it comes to enforcement. Such cases create a large impediment to gaining any type of compliance, much less a resolution on the code violation. In addition to health and safety hazards, such violations impose eye soars on neighborhood residents.
“Therefore, we are at a stalemate (on those specific properties),” Demlow said. “(Those property owners) won’t accept any mail from the city or any type of interaction from the city.”
THE ROAD TO COMPLIANCE OR CONDEMNATION
Committee member and Ward 4 Alderperson Doug Oitzinger pointed out that other options do exist to help the city gain compliance on such property negligence. Namely, those options consist of escalating the issue through a series of notices, citations and, ultimately, condemnation hearings, especially when the property owner is unreachable or simply ignoring city notices.
“If they want to ignore letters from the city, we have other means to take care of this,” Oitzinger said. “And the idea that something should go on for this long and (the property owner) refuses to accept letters from (the city) and so forth … I think that should be unacceptable to city government.”
Skorik reminded the committee that a process for condemnation exists. Moreover, because of the numerous violations detailed in the list, he said the committee must remain judicious in its approach, addressing each individual property within the context of the situation and the violation.
“So let’s not move forward until we been able to fully discuss this matter and look at the procedure that in place for doing that,” Skorik said.
Demlow summarized for the EagleHerald the process which the city uses to enforce property codes. It begins with a letter notifying the individual property owner of the specific violation. Based on the severity of the issue, Demlow generally gives owners 30 to 60 days to correct the issue. He explained that he understands every situation is different and extenuating circumstances can enter the picture.
“I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “I try to work with everybody as much as possible. I’ve been in the inspection business since 2013 and I have found that by giving people some grace … and working through (the issue) with them, I can gain a lot more compliance.”
Following the first letter and the 30-to-60-day grace period, if the owner still has shown no compliance, Demlow issues a second letter that includes another grace period to fix the problem. If the owner still refuses to comply, Demlow is authorized to begin issuing citations, which vary systematically in amount depending on the nature of the code violation. Those fines run anywhere from $350 to about $1,000 and decree a mandatory court hearing, according to Demlow.
“As committee chairperson, I feel that the city, by way of the building inspector works very hard to work with our citizens to give them time and give them the opportunity to get non-compliant properties back to compliance,” Skorik emphasized.
Once the city issues the first citation, technically, every consecutive day the violation is not addressed can result in another citation. However, Demlow rarely proceeds in such a manner. Instead, he continues to work with the property owner, allowing them time to work through the court process. Ultimately, if the owner takes no action the city can escalate to condemnation procedures.
“(Marinette) used to condemn a lot of these properties but there is a significant expense to the city for razing a building,” Demlow said.
If the city has to raze a structure, the cost is applied to the specific property’s taxes. But if the owner has abandoned the property, and stopped tax payments, then those costs are essentially paid by the city. That means that every other responsible Marinette citizen who maintains their property and pays their taxes winds up footing the bill for those few who choose not to.
“And that certainly is not our goal,” Skorik told the EagleHerald. “Our goal is to work with people and try to get properties into compliance.”
He further reiterated that condemnation represents a last resort and that the city takes every possible action to avoid that result.
However, for the more severe and delinquent cases, the city hopes to take a firmer and more timely approach.
“I just think we need to have … some quicker follow-up on the second citation if there is no action (on the first),” said Mayor Steve Genisot. “I think everyone has been reasonable, and (Demlow) has been more than lenient.”