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Uncharted Territory: Missipi Brew owners prepare their bar for carryouts as they deal with the COVID closure
BUSINESSES FACE CHALLENGING TIMES

Uncharted Territory: Missipi Brew owners prepare their bar for carryouts as they deal with the COVID closure

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MUSCATINE -- For the past 26 years, Missipi Brewing Company has been a well-established part of Downtown Muscatine, surviving strong even through recent flooding and road construction.

But now, Missipi Brew faces one of their biggest obstacles yet – as well as their first ever closure – during what would normally be one of the busiest times of the year.

Siblings Mary Kisner and Dave Armstrong are both co-owners of Missipi Brew, with both of them having worked there long before it became the bar that many residents know it as today. “When we heard it was for sale, we decided to approach the owner, and we bought it,” Armstrong said, “At that point, it was just a small, one-room bar with a small beer garden.”

Over the years, the two of them with the help of their families as well as plenty of outside support have been able to transform the bar, adding two more rooms as well as a huge outdoor area. On average, Missipi Brew employs about 35 people, with that number rising to 50-55 in the summertime.

However, due to the ban on dining in, with bars and restaurants across Iowa only being permitted to do carryout, deliveries or drive thru until the COVID-19 risk has subsided, the Brew has locked its doors for the time being. “It’s definitely uncharted territory for us,” said Armstrong.

“We feel bad for our employees that rely on their tips and paychecks,” Kisner added, “That’s our biggest concern, the people who work for us and the people that would come in everyday just to talk to someone, to have that socialization. Now they’re sitting at home without that contact that they really enjoy, so this’ll be hard on them too.”

As a preschool teacher to 19 students who were well on their way to preparing for kindergarten before the closures, Kisner is also concerned about the kids who are affected by closures. “It’s going to be really tough on some kids. I think that there are kids who rely on school for their lunch or a hug every day or to feel safe, and I feel bad for those kids in this situation.”

The process of remembering and relearning what they previously learned before will also be a challenge for many students, Kisner imagines. “We can offer some online support, but it’s not the same as being able to come into the classroom and have that interaction with us. It’s going to be very interesting next year if we don’t get to go back to school this year.”

Though she is relieved that she and her fellow teachers are still being paid during this time, she hopes that she’ll be able to see her 19 kids again even as they move onto the next grade. As for her brother and their crew at Missipi Brew, they are remaining positive as they prepare. Currently, they are in the middle of a deep cleaning of their bar, doing small touch-ups and some staining as well.

After that, they will begin planning out their system for carryouts and possibly deliveries in the hopes of keeping as many of their employees working as they can. “We just hope our employees can stick with us and that they’ll be okay,” Armstrong said, “and that if they find other work, we hope they come back to us. We have a really amazing group of employees that feel like family.”

The two of them also promise to help their employees however they can, even if they can’t work. “We’re not going to let them starve. They’re always here for us, so we have to be here for them during these times too when we can,” Kisner said. However, their employees aren’t the only ones they’re helping.

During their cleaning and preparations, the siblings have made it their goal to get breakfast or lunch at one of the several other downtown restaurants that are doing carryout, as well as using local businesses for their cleaning supplies and paints. They are also donating any fresh produce that they are unable to use at this time.

“All those businesses are going to be affected by this, and I think it’s important to show the community some support,” said Armstrong. Looking back on their 26 years in business, he recalled that compared to when Missipi Brew first opened, there are many successful restaurants and businesses in the downtown area, and he hopes that doesn’t change anytime soon. “We want our neighbors to succeed as well.”

“When we’re down here working and we’re hungry, we’ll go to Mamma Mia’s or other different places that are locally owned,” Kisner added, “We need all the businesses in Muscatine to stay open.”

As for their own restaurant, Armstrong admitted that he isn’t feeling any frustration or bitterness towards those who are maybe having an easier time with the closure, such as restaurants who have drive thrus. “We’re a dine-in place, there’s no doubt about that… But we’ll adapt to what the public needs, whether that be curbside or delivery or call in. We don’t know yet, but we’ll do something.”

Even without the ability to carryout meals however, the two were amazed at the residents who have come in recently to still try and support them by purchasing gift certificates. It is this type of support that makes them confident that they will survive the closure situation.

And, when they are able to reopen for dine-ins, they’re expecting the same level of support that they have always had and appreciated from the Muscatine community. “We’re all in this together, and I think they’ll really want to support their small businesses,” Armstrong said, “We’ll be ready for them.”

“We’ve been here for 25 years, we’ll be here a few more,” Kisner added, “You can’t get rid of us that easily.”

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