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Mullen's Dairy Bar - A Business, a Pandemic and the Journey

On March 23, 2020, a governmental order was given to close all “non-essential” businesses due to the coronavirus outbreak.  These words fell heavy upon the community and left the hearts and minds of every business owner questioning who was considered essential and what does an essential business look like during a pandemic?

Mullen’s Dairy Bar, in Watertown, Wisconsin was such a business.  We asked Adam Keepman, operator and chef of Mullen’s, to share his journey with us and how Mullen’s has changed through COVID-19.

As we spoke with Adam over lunch, he looked pleasantly comfortable with all the busyness surrounding us. Our first question addressed the “most challenging obstacle” during the pandemic. “Was it customers, vendors or possibly finances?” we asked. His answer matched the initial reaction for many of us.  “My biggest obstacle was myself, keeping cool, being positive and productive. I had to be able to look at the situation with a clear head. I also spoke with my staff, making sure everyone was okay and feeling well.” 

With regulations changing daily, Adam and his brothers, (co-business owners) kept in communication to discuss a game plan for Mullen’s and how they could ease the minds of Mullen’s customers.  “We are an ice cream plant that makes ice cream, we could do this but differently.” They had to “reinvent” how they were going to serve and stay afloat in these unprecedented times. When asked about their plan to keep Mullen’s serving, Adam, without hesitation, expressed his “greatest blessing” was their Friday Fish Fry.  Prior to the pandemic, Mullen’s was going to discontinue its fish dinners since the demand for it had slowed down. To his surprise, Friday came, and he received “takeout orders” for fish dinners, 60 to 80 requests a night!

Take-out, curbside pickup and delivery were the new norms.  Adam advertised on Facebook, used a sandwich board outside the diner and put signs on the door that they were open to serve!  People were reminded that anything could be ordered but everything would be made “to go”.  Their plan was to “keep pushing quality”. 

Curiously, we asked Adam, “What have you learned about Mullen’s Dairy Bar customers and the City of Watertown through this pandemic?”  His eyes teared up as he began to express how “customers have shown me how much they appreciate us.”  He continued, “We’ve survived something here as a community, we’re different. Our numbers are strong, we (Mullen’s) are still going to be [the same hometown dairy bar we were in] 1969.” Adam then replied confidently, “This is where I serve.”

“What big opportunities for Mullen’s and Mullen’s fans have been born out of this pandemic?”, we asked.  “We now offer outdoor seating; we built a new deck as an option for those concerned about social distancing. Some of our specialty products can be found in stores and we will continue take-out ordering as usual.”

As we finished up an order of sweet potato waffle fries, we asked, “What would you do differently if this were to happen again?”  Adam stated, “I would create a “pandemic plan” for employees and not stress as much. I feel like I have been reinvigorated; this has happened once; we do not want it to happen again!”

On March 23, 2020, the pandemic created a challenge for many businesses.  We are thankful that Mullen’s Dairy Bar and all the people involved, accepted the challenge, became innovative but never swerved from their focus of customers creating memories made with ice cream.


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