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.”