How much Seattle business news can one year hold? Take our 2019 Biz Quiz to see what you know - Seattle Times

How much Seattle business news can one year hold? Take our 2019 Biz Quiz to see what you know - Seattle Times

How much Seattle business news can one year hold? Take our 2019 Biz Quiz to see what you know - Seattle Times

Posted: 27 Dec 2019 08:12 AM PST

This was the year that bad news about the 737 MAX dominated local business headlines, but plenty of other things happened. Test your knowledge of local business events and see how you rate.

Trend of the year: Plant-based foods | 2019-12-27 - Food Business News

Posted: 27 Dec 2019 05:30 AM PST

KANSAS CITY — Plant-based eating has become a mainstream movement. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods significantly outpaced overall grocery sales in the past year, surging 11% to $4.5 billion, according to data from the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.

The leading drivers of plant-based sales continue to be meat and dairy alternatives, including milks, cheese, yogurts and ice cream. Sales of plant-based milks grew 6% over the past year and now make up 13% of the entire milk category, while cow's milk sales declined 3%.

Emerging plant-based dairy categories experienced the most rapid growth. Spreads, dips, sour cream and sauces grew more than any other category, expanding by 52%. While other plant-based categories experienced similar growth, sales of conventional animal products stagnated or declined. Plant-based yogurt sales grew 39% while conventional yogurt declined 3%. Plant-based cheese grew 19% while conventional cheese was flat. Plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty grew 27% while conventional sales grew 1%.

The plant-based meat category grew by 10% and is now worth more than $800 million, according to the report. Plant-based meats equated to 2% of retail packaged meat sales, with refrigerated plant-based meat growing 37%, the report said. Sales in the conventional meat category, in contrast, grew by 2%.

"This is just the beginning of a massive growth period for plant-based foods," said Caroline Bushnell, associate director of corporate engagement for The Good Food Institute. "Consumer appetite for plant-based foods is surging as consumers increasingly make the switch to foods that match their changing values and desire for more sustainable options. This growth will continue as more companies bring next-generation innovations to market that really deliver on the most important driver of consumer choice: taste."

Meat alternative market sizzles

The market for meat alternatives has amassed a number of new players but also a greater investment from new players. Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., in September introduced Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms, including the company's first ready-to-cook plant-based burger to be sold in the refrigerated meat case, which Steven A. Cahillane, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg, described as "a real meat-like experience."

Add Conagra Brands, Inc., Chicago, to the roster of food companies that see significant upside in the market for meat alternatives. Innovation on tap from the company includes a meatless burger, meatless hot dogs and sausage products.

Qdoba Impossible bowlThe Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is extending its Simple Truth brand into the meat and dairy alternative category. The new products include meat alternatives like fresh burger patties, ground applications, sausages and deli slices as well as cream cheese, French onion dip and queso.

Top restaurant chains are serving plant-based patties developed by Impossible Foods, Redwood City, Calif., or Beyond Meat, El Segundo, Calif. The Impossible Burger has been adopted onto menus in more than 17,000 locations, including Burger King, White Castle, Little Caesars, Qdoba, Cheesecake Factory and Red Robin restaurants. The Beyond Burger is available in more than 26,000 food service locations, including Hardee's and Carl's Jr., Tim Hortons, TGI Friday's, Dunkin', Del Taco and a test in McDonald's restaurants in Canada.

Plant-based burger orders at quick-service restaurants were up 10% from last year, reaching 228 million servings, according to The NPD Group, Chicago. The strong year-over-year growth of plant-based burgers is primarily due to increased availability at restaurant chains, generating trial on the part of beef burger buyers.

"Plant-based burgers allow consumers to substitute without sacrifice," said Darren Seifer, food and beverage analyst at The NPD Group. "They get the 'burger' experience while assuaging their need for more protein and social concerns. With that said, U.S. consumers have not given up on beef burgers but are willing to mix things up every now and then."

The future of plant-based foods

The plant-based boom has stoked the appetite of the investment community. Plant-based food and beverage start-ups have raised more than $17 billion in funding since 2009, said Michele Simon, founder and executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association.

"Plant-based foods aren't new, but what's happening now is it's gone from being a niche industry targeting mostly vegetarians and vegans, who are still an important part of the market segment, but now it's grown into a mainstream industry that is targeting everyone, and that's really what's causing it to explode, combined with the innovation that's happening," Ms. Simon said.

In September, Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark., announced an investment in New Wave Foods, San Francisco, a manufacturer of plant-based shellfish alternatives, including a shrimp alternative made with seaweed and plant protein.

Tyson Raised and RootedThis past June, Tyson Foods launched a line of blended and plant-based products under the Raised and Rooted brand. Initial product applications sold under the brand include nuggets and burgers.

"We're excited about this investment in the fast-growing segment of the plant-based protein market," said Amy Tu, president of Tyson Ventures. "This continues our focus on identifying and investing in companies with disruptive products and breakthrough technologies related to our core business so we can continue to serve a growing global population."

Plant-based food and beverage businesses are a focus of Stray Dog Capital, Lenexa, Kas.

"Due to the nature of our thesis, we're not looking for companies that have a product as good as the animal-based version, but rather ones that are better in taste, texture, price and/or process," said Macy Marriott, a venture analyst at the firm. "Data are showing a notable consumer shift led by millennials and Gen Z in the form of flexitarians and reducetarians who are wanting to incorporate more plant-based options in their diet, and we're seeking innovative products that fulfill that desire."

Stray Dog investments include Good Catch, a maker of plant-based seafood alternatives; Miyokos Kitchen, a maker of vegan cultured nut cheese; and Goodseed Burger, a brand of veggie burgers made with hemp seeds. Another portfolio company, Ocean Hugger Foods, Inc., produces plant-based sushi ingredients made with tomatoes, carrot and eggplant.

"The rise in plant-based eating has awakened the C.P.G. category," Ms. Marriott said. "A 2018 Nielsen study found that plant-based product sales are growing across all categories. During the 12-month study range, alternative meat sales skyrocketed by 24%. This growth is great news for major players like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods but also indicates plenty of room for new entrants."

Marshfield's top 2019 business news: Pizza Ranch to open, Figi's closes, Baltus Auto sold - Marshfield News-Herald

Posted: 27 Dec 2019 04:36 AM PST


MARSHFIELD - Our area is full of businesses that impact our daily life. They open, close, sell and relocate all the time. Streetwise keeps you up to date on all the Marshfield business happenings, and there were a lot in 2019.

This year, Shopko's closure left a void, coffee shops like Uptown Coffee Company opened and the community supported employees after Figi's closed and workers lost their jobs.

Here's a look at some of the biggest business stories of the year in Marshfield.

Pizza Ranch is coming to Marshfield in 2020.

The Marshfield area will have its own Pizza Ranch by March. The Iowa-based chain restaurant serves a buffet, chicken and, of course, pizza.

Neil and Sue Krogman own the restaurant location and plan for it to feature community rooms and a FunZone arcade. A marketing coordinator with Pizza Ranch said the chain is planning for a March opening, but they don't have a specific date yet.

The only other Pizza Ranch locations in central Wisconsin are in Plover and Weston.

Read the story: Marshfield Pizza Ranch to open in former Figi's Outlet Store on North Central Avenue

Figi's closes after 75 years in Marshfield, 276 full-time jobs eliminated.


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After 75 years in Marshfield, employees and business leaders were surprised and upset to hear that Figi's would close and eliminate 276 full-time jobs and an undisclosed number of part-time positions.

Figi's was a direct-to-consumer company that specialized in cheese and meat gifts, candies, holiday gift baskets and more. John and Ann Figi created the business in the kitchen of their one-bedroom apartment on West Cleveland Street in Marshfield in 1944. They sold 43 gift boxes that first year and within three years that number grew to 9,000, according to Marshfield-News Herald archives.

Employees who were out of work received quick assistance from the community and other local businesses.

Blue Heron BrewPub posted on social media to urge those employees to come in and fill out an application. Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry also helped to organize two job fairs geared toward out-of-work Figi's employees. 

"It's a type of response one might not see in larger communities, but in a smaller tight-knit community everyone has an eye looking out for their neighbors," MACCI Executive Director Scott Larson said at the time.

Read the story: Community rallies around laid-off Figi's employees after 'unexpected' closing news

More: Figi family says 'thank you' to thousands of employees who made company a success

Hub City Adventure closes; Escape Room Marshfield brings new entertainment options.

The family fun center Hub City Adventure offered a laser tag arena, nine-hole mini golf course and 25 arcade games that changed every few months. It was a popular spot for children's birthday parties and other group outings.

When it closed in June, it left the Marshfield Mall with one less tenant and the area with one less place for families to spend time together.

Mike and Nicole Schreiner opened the entertainment center in March 2018. It's still unclear why the owners closed Hub City Adventure, as they did not respond to an interview request from the Marshfield News-Herald.

It wasn't all bad news for entertainment options in Marshfield in 2019 though. Escape Room Marshfield opened in August with its "Ransom" room. It was one of four rooms planned for the downtown business.

An escape room is a type of interactive entertainment experience. Guests enter a themed room, such as a jungle or a prison cell, and have to find their way out using the clues and puzzles around them.

You can book a time to visit Escape Room Marshfield online at

Read the story:Hub City Adventure closes in Marshfield Mall

More:Escape Room Marshfield to open with 'Ransom' room

Marshfield Clinic announces possible merger, then decides against it.

After Marshfield Clinic announced in May that it might merge with La Crosse-based Gundersen Health System to become a major player in rural healthcare, the possibility of a combined company died this month

The decision was mutual, according to a news release from Marshfield Clinic.

Instead of merging, both organizations will focus on individual ways to improve access to health care in rural areas. Those include telehealth services, the enhancement of Critical Access Hospitals and clinics in small communities, and recruiting and retaining clinicians to practice in rural areas.

The merger would have created a health care operation with more than 18,000 employees across 13 hospitals and more than 100 clinics in Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa.

Patients also could have seen their health care costs come down in the long term, Susan Turney, CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System, said at the time.

Combined, the two health systems would have had more resources to experiment with innovations, such as new ways of delivering care and using analytics and other advances in information technology to provide better care for patients.

Read the story: No layoffs planned in possible Marshfield Clinic, Gundersen merger, CEO says

More: Here's how a Marshfield Clinic, Gundersen Health merger might affect Wisconsin's rural health care

More:Marshfield Clinic, Gundersen Health announce merger talks have ended; systems to remain independent

Uptown Coffee Company opens in downtown Marshfield.

John and Vicki Tracy love coffee, and they love Marshfield. They made that commitment clear to the community when they opened Uptown Coffee Company downtown in July.

The couple wanted Marshfield residents to have specialty coffee options in an unique environment. So the coffee available rotates among Ruby Coffee Roasters (Nelsonville), Kickapoo Coffee (Viroqua) and JBC Coffee Roasters (Madison). Rishi Tea from Milwaukee is also offered alongside bakery items.

Having a fresh, clean atmosphere at the coffee shop was important to the owners. They renovated the space, formerly home to Railroad Antiques and Cranberry Creek Antiques, along with their family.

The couple long dreamed about starting their own coffee company and were excited to finally make it happen in 2019.

Since its opening, the Tracy family added salads from a start-up called Fresh Jar and soups. They've also hosted some events, like live music, and plan to work with local makers to sell more merchandise.

Uptown Coffee hasn't started to roast its own beans yet, but still plans to in the future, Vicki said.

Read the story: Uptown Coffee Company opens, bringing specialty coffee to downtown Marshfield

Marshfield Qdoba plans in front of former Shopko site are 'dead.'

Plans for a Qdoba Mexican Eats restaurant near the former Shopko store on Central Avenue "went dead," after the developer pulled out of the project, Ron Stokes, president of Roaring Fork Restaurant Group, told the Marshfield News-Herald in October.

However, Stokes said the restaurant group is looking at other possible locations in Marshfield for a Qdoba restaurant.

"We are very interested in Marshfield," Stokes said. "We want to be there in the worst way."

A Qdoba was originally scheduled to open in Marshfield in early 2019. That was later pushed back because of issues with a lease agreement.

Roaring Fork Restaurant Group is based in Milwaukee and owns more than 50 Qdoba Mexican Eats locations in Wisconsin.

Qdoba currently has locations in Stevens Point, Wausau and Weston.

Read the story: Plans 'dead' for proposed Marshfield Qdoba restaurant in front of former Shopko

Baltus Auto company sells its convenience stores and an auto shop.

A local, family-owned company that's been in business for almost a century came to an end in 2019 as the third-generation owner planned his retirement.

Baltus Tire & Auto at 110 S. Chestnut Ave. closed as it was bought by Team Schierl Cos., another family-owned business with headquarters in Stevens Point. Its operations moved to Schierl Tire and Service in Marshfield.

A separate deal saw Baltus Oil Co. sell its eight Baltus Bread & Butter Shops in Marshfield, Stratford, Wisconsin Rapids and Nekoosa to Riiser Fuels Holdings, a Wausau company.

But the story doesn't end there.

When Baltus Tire & Auto on Chestnut Avenue closed, the city said it planned to buy the land from Baltus. Marshfield will pay $250,000 for the property and the deal is expected to close in January.

For now, the city plans to use the building as additional storage for the police department, which is around the corner at 110 W. First St.

Moving forward, though, the land could be used for some other type of redevelopment.

The city also sees the Baltus property as a connector between the downtown corridor and the Jack Hackman Field and recreational area to the west. The city has eyed the Baltus property for years.

Read the story:Marshfield business Baltus sold as city plans to buy property for potential redevelopment

More:Riiser purchases 8 Baltus Bread & Butter Shop stores in central Wisconsin

Three Sisters resale shop closes in downtown Marshfield.

After Nicole Ledin's daughter, 21-year-old Cierra Hardrath, was murdered in January 2018, she had difficulty getting out of bed and continuing her life as normal. It wasn't normal anymore.

But the mother wanted to honor Cierra and make her daughter's plans come to life. So she opened Three Sisters, a boutique in downtown Marshfield, in August 2018 and even expanded to a larger storefront soon after.

Ledin opened Three Sisters because she used to bond with her daughter over their shared love of thrifting. She said she had to be frugal raising her children, so they spent time thumbing through items at garage sales and resale shops around central Wisconsin.

As Cierra grew up, she had a goal: opening her own resale shop. But that dream never materialized for Cierra.

The resale shop closed in June, after Ledin realized the overhead cost was simply too much. However, that didn't spell the end for her daughter's dream.

She planned to continue the resale tradition with a quarterly series of pop-up events. The first, in August, was cancelled due to unforeseen events, according to the Three Sisters Facebook page. However, Ledin was still selling old resale stock by appointment.

"We gave it every penny, let alone every bit of effort," Nicole said. "But the store wasn't a failure. It served its purpose."

Read the story: Marshfield resale shop helped mom cope with daughter's murder. The store is closing, but the dream will live on.

Shopko declares bankruptcy and closes stores; Shopko Optical relocates.

Shopko's Marshfield location at 1306 N. Central Ave. closed in 2019, along with the last of the company's stores. We weren't alone as the Ashwaubenon-based company declared bankruptcy in January.

However, the new free-standing Shopko Optical opened at 717 S. Central Ave., near Pick 'n Save, in late October.

The department store was unable to find an investor for the big-box store, but a New York-based investment firm acquired the optical division in May.

Most major vision plans, including EyeMed Vision Care and Spectera, are accepted at Shopko Optical. To book an appointment with an optometrist or certify coverage, visit

Read the story:Shopko Optical to open new location in Marshfield

More: Shopko's last day: Stores shut down amidst empty shelves, sadness

Mission Nutrition opens Herbalife shake shop downtown.

It's been almost a year since the new smoothie bar, herbal tea and meal replacement Herbalife shake shop opened downtown at 111 W. Second St., Suite A.

Owner Nicole Bird imagined a coffee-shop atmosphere where friends can come and go, grab a smoothie or relax on a computer while sipping a drink.

When it opened, smoothie flavors at Mission Nutrition included Elvis (peanut butter and banana), espresso brownie, Fudgsicle, thin mint and cinnamon roll. Teas included PomBom (peach raspberry), chai and Beauty and the Beast (strawberry lemonade). 

Mission Nutrition continues to shake things up. It posted to its Facebook page earlier this month about a themed drink called "The Grinch."

Read the story: Mission Nutrition, featuring 21 smoothie flavors, opens in downtown Marshfield

Got a question or tip? Contact reporter Megan Stringer at (715) 207-1571 or Follow her on Twitter @megstringers.

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M&T tech hub, GM strike, Buffalo's first 'unicorn' lead 2019's business news - Buffalo News

Posted: 27 Dec 2019 02:00 AM PST

The Buffalo Niagara economy keeps chugging along.

Home prices hit record highs this year as buyers battled for houses. Unemployment kept hovering around a modern-era low of around 4% as businesses scrambled to fill open positions, putting a damper on growth at some worker-starved firms. M&T Bank is planning a downtown technology hub with more than 1,000 workers. Local developers are launching renovation projects at a pace not seen in decades.

But there still were some setbacks. New Era Cap and Ingersoll-Rand closed local factories. Local malls and shopping centers were squeezed by the struggles of big-box retailers, like Sears and J.C. Penney. Job growth is sluggish and far below the national average.

Overall, though, it still was a good year for a region that long has struggled, even if the growth here wasn't as robust as it was in other parts of the country. Here's a look at the Top 10 business stories of the year, as chosen by The Buffalo News' business reporters.

1. M&T tech hub coming downtown

M&T Bank made Seneca One Tower its choice for a "tech hub," where M&T will bring together technology workers and drive tech innovation for the bank. M&T chairman and CEO Rene Jones also announced plans to hire 1,000 workers to bolster the bank's tech workforce.

M&T will lease 11 floors in the tower, plus two floors in the building's pedestal. And M&T wants to see other tech-minded companies move into Seneca One Tower, to promote the growth of the region's undersized technology sector. 43North is set to move into the tower in early 2020.

Beyond M&T's plans, its expansion into the tower is fueling the revival of a 38-story skyscraper whose future was unclear after HSBC Bank USA and Phillips Lytle moved out years ago.

2. GM strike idles 3,000 locally

The strike by United Auto Workers members at General Motors – a walkout that lasted nearly six weeks – was a national story with local implications. Between GM's Tonawanda and Lockport plants, nearly 3,000 local employees were on the picket line.

The UAW strike brought to the forefront long-standing union issues such as GM's use of "temporary" workers alongside permanent employees. Workers ratified a four-year deal in October, even though a majority of the workers who cast ballots at the Tonawanda and Lockport plants voted it down.

3. ACV Auctions becomes a "unicorn"

ACV Auctions went where no Buffalo-based startup has gone before. In November, the privately held tech company crossed the $1 billion mark in valuation, becoming an elusive "unicorn."

It's been a remarkable growth story for the online auction company, which was the 2015 winner of the 43North business plan competition. The tech community hailed the achievement as proof of what's possible for startups hatched in Buffalo to achieve. Meanwhile, ACV Auctions keeps growing: The business has 1,000 employees, including 400 here.

4. Morgan's empire collapses

In May, federal prosecutors indicted Rochester real estate developer Robert C. Morgan and three others on 114 counts of bank, wire and insurance fraud related to their financing of multifamily apartment properties in multiple states. The Securities and Exchange Commission also filed a civil lawsuit against Morgan, alleging that he was running a Ponzi-scheme-like operation by raising money from investors for his acquisitions but using the money to pay off earlier investors instead.

Rochester developer Robert C. Morgan, photographed arriving at the Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse in Buffalo. (John Hickey/News file photo)

The charges come one year after an initial indictment that included Morgan's son and nephew, as well as two Buffalo-area mortgage brokers. And they followed a long investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo. Prosecutors allege Morgan and his co-defendants submitted falsified and inflated rent-roll, income and other financial documents to lenders to support their applications for commercial mortgages, deceiving the banks into either providing loans they otherwise wouldn't have or in larger amounts than were justified by the actual value of the properties.

Morgan had built a network of companies that owned or managed 180 properties and 36,000 apartments in 14 states around the country prior to the investigation and indictment. Since then, the companies have sold 95 properties with 18,000 units – half the portfolio – to a joint venture with another company with a similar name, King of Prussia, Pa.-based Morgan Properties. The price was not disclosed, and Morgan retains some interest in the properties, which are valued at $2 billion.

5. Loss of anchors spells trouble for local malls

Some shopping malls in Western New York continue their free fall, and the closure of anchor stores has accelerated the pace.

The latest blow came when Sears announced it would close its store at McKinley Mall – the department store's last Western New York location. The mall had already lost Bon-Ton and two Macy's stores; and Sears makes up 20% of the leased space in the mall, which has 25 vacant storefronts. McKinley Mall is in financial receivership and has had its value slashed to just $11.5 million.

It follows the pattern playing out at Boulevard and Eastern Hills malls, and enclosed shopping malls across the country. As the shrinking middle class migrates to standalone discount and big box stores such as Walmart, anchor stores have lost their core customer. As anchors struggle, malls lose their biggest traffic generators.

6. Can a lifestyle center save Eastern Hills Mall?

We won't know if a town center can save Eastern Hills until the project comes to fruition but owners Mountain Development and Uniland Development are banking big that it can.

As the retail apocalypse has made clear, retail-only properties simply don't work anymore. The strategy of Eastern Hills' owners is to replace the retail-centric mall and replace it with a town center which – contrary to popular belief – is not a mall.

When done right, a town center is a small, self-sustaining, urban-inspired community, with retail integrated among high-end residential and class-A office space.

Though a town center features retail, it is supported by rent from apartments, entertainment venues, restaurants, fitness centers and offices in addition to store leases. The stronger mix of tenants help keep the property viable.

A concept rendering of what the town center proposed for Eastern Hills Mall could look like.

7. Housing stays hot

This is not your parents' housing market.

After decades of home prices that essentially kept pace with inflation, the Buffalo Niagara region has been on a roll, and there aren't any signs that it's slowing down.

Prices keep rising moderately – with the median sale price up about 5% over the past year. Fewer homes are for sale, creating stiff competition for well-kept houses in desirable locations. And homes are still selling quickly – the average home is on the market for a little more than a month before it sells. Put it all together, and sellers are commanding close to their final asking price.

The downside: Rising prices cut into affordability and record low listings limit the choices buyers have.

8. The job market remains tight

All those "help wanted" signs don't lie.

In one sense, this is the tightest the local job market has been in nearly two decades, with unemployment hovering around 4% for most of last year. That has local employers scrambling to find qualified workers, even if the competition isn't leading to outsized wage increases.

That's partly because, in another sense, the local job market remains subdued, adding jobs at less than a 1% annualized pace. While that's decent for the Buffalo Niagara region, it's more than a third slower than the nationwide growth rate, continuing a long trend of subpar job growth.

The tight job market also has spurred efforts to train workers who lack the skills to fill today's open positions. But it also underscores how the region's population needs to grow to increase its economic potential.

9. Neighbors push back on Elmwood Crossing project

After more than a year of planning, design and consultation, developers Nick Sinatra and William Paladino are ready to move forward with their redevelopment of the former Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo campus into Elmwood Crossing. Plans for the 8-acre site call for converting the 600,000-square-foot complex into more than 220 apartments, 27 condominiums, 22 townhouses, a 75-room hotel, an urban grocery, boutique shops, office space and an EduKids day care. Essex Homes will build the townhomes, while People Inc. will provide affordable housing.

The developers received approval for the first project, a new five-story mixed-use building at the corner of Elmwood and Bryant, and an overall environmental impact statement for the entire project has been completed and accepted by the city, clearing the way for the other individual projects to begin.

But the team's request for a planned-unit development designation, which would unify the sprawling campus under one special zoning type to simplify the development, is meeting with opposition from neighbors, who say it's an end-run around the Green Code and insist that the developers should have to comply with the rules.

A rendering of part of the Elmwood Crossing project.

10. Gates Circle project advances a bit

It's been a slow road for TM Montante Development's $150 million effort to remake the former Millard Fillmore Hospital campus at Gates Circle. The developer plans to transform the 6.7-acre campus into the new Lancaster Square community, with about a half-dozen buildings containing more than 500 condominiums, townhouses and apartments, plus an urban grocery, a fitness center, additional ground-floor retail space and potential office space. The developer also has received approval for a new six-story apartment building at 1299 Delaware, and also bought the Gates Circle parking ramp from the city.

So far, Montante sold two parcels of land to Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates and People Inc., which built Canterbury Woods Gates Circle and the Linwood-Lafayette Senior Apartments, respectively. But its own efforts haven't gotten far. The developer imploded the old hospital tower, took down some other structures and cleaned up the site, but hasn't been able to proceed because its financial partner, Rochester developer Robert C. Morgan, was indicted in May on federal mortgage fraud charges. So until Montante can buy out Morgan's 50% stake, the firm can't get financing for much of the project. Montante did reach agreement to buy out Morgan on one building at 1275 Delaware, but talks are still underway on a deal for the rest, with no agreement yet.

Wisconsin Rapids' top 2019 business news: Matalco to create 80 jobs, B's Tap House opens - Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Posted: 27 Dec 2019 03:31 AM PST


WISCONSIN RAPIDS - From beer and bakeries to restaurants and industry, 2019 was a busy year for business news.

Shopko closed the last of its retail stores. Two new sweet shops and an ethnic grocery store opened. And a manufacturing company announced it planned to build in the city and hire 80 workers.

We sorted through all of our Streetwise news for the year, and here's a look at some of the biggest business stories of 2019.

B's Tap House opens downtown, offers 50 craft beers.

In February, Cori and Brandon Abbott opened B's Tap House at 140 E. Grand Ave. in downtown Wisconsin Rapids. The business offers craft beer, wine, board games and a quiet atmosphere.

Customers can find 20 craft beers on tap, ranging from nitro beers to options like a shake chocolate stout. The menu also offers gluten-free beer. Beyond the tap, another 30 craft beers are available in cans and bottles. Domestic beer is also offered.

The tap house is specifically designed not to be a bar. There's no liquor. There is space in the tap house to sit and socialize, and board games are piled on a table for customers to play.

B's Tap House has also established itself as a venue for live music, and it often hosts fundraisers.

In September, B's Tap House hosted a Never Forgotten Honor Flight Street Dance, featuring raffles, live music and a variety of craft and domestic beer. Cash donations were collected for the Honor Flight, helping U.S. military veterans to see memorials of the wars they fought in at no cost to the veterans.

RELATED: Downtown tap house to offer 50 craft beers, wine

Part of former paper mill in Port Edwards converted into hemp-processing facility.


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Port Edwards residents have eagerly waited for new activity at the site of the former Domtar mill since it closed in 2008. In November, it was announced that a portion of the local landmark building will be converted into a hemp-processing facility.

Forrest Woolery and Tim Voight are hemp growers with Sweet Trees LLC, and they will use the former Domtar facility to dry and further prepare their hemp plants to be converted into products like CBD oil, hemp seed oil and protein powder.

Tim and Todd Heeg, owners of Nutrativa Global in Nekoosa, helped secure the site for the farmers, and they hope to become more involved in the process and production of the hemp products over time. Nutrativa Global is a local manufacturer of fruit oils and powders, as well as other fruit-based products.

Todd Heeg said the farmers will contract with an outside processor for manufacturing.

RELATED: Part of former paper mill in Port Edwards converted into hemp-processing facility

Family Video, Marco's Pizza close Wisconsin Rapids stores.

In late April, customers were surprised to learn that Marco's Pizza had closed its doors and Family Video, which shared a space at 820 Eighth St. S. in Wisconsin Rapids, would stop renting out movies and games in early May.

A manager said it was a company-based decision, and the company had decided to enter into a lease agreement with a discount retailer.

By July, a Dollar General had opened in the space. It was the second location for the discount retailer in the city; the other store is located on the west side of the city at 951 W. Grand Ave.

RELATED: Family Video, Marco's Pizza closing Wisconsin Rapids location

RELATED: Dollar General to open second Wisconsin Rapids store, at vacant Marco's Pizza-Family Video

New Mexican restaurant builds in demolished strip mall space.

Readers had a lot of questions when they noticed demolition and construction taking place in the strip mall across the parking lot from Pick 'n Save in Wisconsin Rapids.

Luis Melendez and his sister, Valeria Melendez, announced in November that they are in the process of building a fast-casual Mexican restaurant in the space at 1343 Eighth St. S. It will be the siblings' second restaurant; they opened La Taqueria in Wausau in 2018.

Luis Melendez said customers will be able to order a la carte items at a counter like tacos, burritos and other small items. It's the same concept they use at their Wausau restaurant. Its menu also features drinks like margaritas.

Luis Melendez said an opening date had not been set for the restaurant.

RELATED: New Mexican restaurant will build in demolished strip mall space in Wisconsin Rapids

Downtown location becomes home to two sweet shops.

The storefront at 211 Oak St. in downtown Wisconsin Rapids saw a lot of changes this year, and they all involved sweet treats.

In April, Jenn and Joey Sammartino opened The Sweet Spot, featuring safe-to-eat cookie dough and gourmet cupcakes, as well as other bakery items like cinnamon rolls, cookies, bread and the occasional cake for special occasions.

In August, the couple announced on the business's Facebook page they were presented with an offer they couldn't turn down, and a new bakery would take its place.

Heather Hansen opened Short & Sweet Cakery at the same site in October, offering cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, breads, pies and cookies. A special coffee menu is also featured at the shop, with seasonal favorites like bourbon caramel, gingerbread and toasted marshmallow.

RELATED: The Sweet Spot will offer edible cookie dough, cupcakes in downtown Wisconsin Rapids

RELATED: 'Baking sets my soul on fire': Short & Sweet Cakery to open in downtown Wisconsin Rapids

Aluminum manufacturer Matalco building plant, expects to hire 80 workers.


In January, aluminum manufacturing company Matalco announced plans to build a new facility in the Rapids East Commerce Center. The company will invest $80 million to build a 110,000-square-foot manufacturing plant with the latest technology. Once it opens, it will employ 80 permanent full-time workers.

Tom Horter, president of Matalco, said the company chose Wisconsin Rapids because of its location, exceptional workforce, local investments and the comprehensive incentive package and assistance provided from the state and local levels.

Wisconsin Rapids city leaders held a groundbreaking celebration Oct. 1 on the site, which is scheduled to be complete by late summer 2020.

RELATED: Aluminum manufacturer Matalco to build plant in Wisconsin Rapids, hire 80 full-timers

Shopko closure leaves retail hole in community, optical center relocates.

After filing for bankruptcy early this year, Shopko closed the last of its retail stores in June. That included the Wisconsin Rapids location at 1100 E. Riverview Expressway; Shopko had occupied the property since October 1979.

The closure left empty another large retail space within about a half-mile radius for the city to try to fill. The former Furniture Plus and County Market space at 2111 Eighth St. S., in the same parking lot as Dunkin' and Pizza Hut, has been vacant since August 2017. And WG&R Furniture announced in August that it would close its WG&R Express store at 2211 Eighth St. S. before the end of the year.

Shopko Optical, however, continued to operate inside the former Shopko store until it found a new home. In November, it announced it would relocate to 4551 Eighth St. S., in the same strip mall as Fantastic Sams and Papa Murphy's.

When Shopko sold its pharmacy business to Kroger Co. in 2018, it also sparked a new local business. Barry Johnson, who had been a pharmacist at Shopko for 12 years, decided to partner with Hometown Pharmacy to fill a need in the community.

Hometown Pharmacy is a group of independently-owned and operated pharmacies throughout Wisconsin. The company partners with local pharmacists, and the business focuses more on overall health than just prescriptions.

The Wisconsin Rapids location opened in May at 1000 E. Riverview Expressway.

RELATED: Shopko's last day: Sadness, empty shelves as Wisconsin retailer shuts down for good

RELATED: Shopko Optical opens at new Wisconsin Rapids location

RELATED: Readers, what businesses would you like to see fill vacant spaces in Wisconsin Rapids?

J² Catering opens second food truck, then announces business will close.

Joel and Julie Flewellen had a busy year in 2019.

The owners of J² Catering in Wisconsin Rapids announced in May their plans to open a second emergency service-themed food truck called Taco 911. It was the couple's second food truck, as they had operated the Paddy Wagon since 2017. The couple gave updates to where both trucks would be on their catering business's Facebook page.

By the end of May, the couple announced they would add a mini golf course to their list of businesses. They leased the former White Sands Mini Golf course and transformed it into Mulligan's Island Mini Golf at 5511 Wazeecha Ave. in Grand Rapids. The couple frequently ran their food trucks there.

The Flewellens shocked (and saddened) customers in August when they announced they had sold both food trucks and were looking at the possibility of expanding into a bar and grill. But, in November, they said they would close the catering business in March.

Julie Flewellen said she and Joel had discussed their plans, and their decision came down to knowing how much work it takes to keep a business going. Joel is getting ready to retire in the next couple of years from his position as a lieutenant for the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department, and the couple is planning to enjoy their time, she said.

RELATED: Taco 911: J² Catering to open second food truck in Wisconsin Rapids

RELATED: Grand Rapids mini golf course near Lake Wazeecha gets new look, new owners

RELATED: J² Catering in Wisconsin Rapids announces plans to close

Kansas company plans solar project on proposed mega-dairy site in Saratoga.

Savion of Lenexa, Kansas, announced plans in September for a 150-megawatt solar project that will sit on 1,200 acres of land owned by Wysocki Family of Companies in Saratoga. The solar project will produce enough electricity to power 40,000 homes, the company said.

The project will be located on the west side of State 13, on both sides of Rangeline Road. The project is estimated to start construction in late 2021.

It is unclear how the solar project would affect the 5,300-cow mega-dairy Wysocki Family of Companies had proposed in Saratoga. Wysocki had planned to use the land for crops and spreading manure.

RELATED: Kansas company plans solar project on proposed mega-dairy site in Saratoga

RELATED: Proposed solar project could bring money to Saratoga and Wood County

Loyal-Phant Market offers traditional Asian foods.

Readers were excited to learn about a new grocery store in Wisconsin Rapids where customers can find traditional Asian foods.

In March, Yer Yang and her husband, Vang Lor, opened Loyal-Phant Market at 3031 Plover Road.

Yang said she and her family moved to Wisconsin Rapids in 2016 and found they had to travel to stores in Stevens Point or Wausau for authentic Asian produce. She said a lot of families look for specific brands of ingredients while making authentic recipes, and larger stores in the area don't always carry them, or they have a limited selection.

Yang decided to fill a need in the community.

Loyal-Phant has a variety of products like produce, rice, banana leaves, frog legs, sauces, mambo, coconut milk, noodles, coffee and tea. The store also has a deli where guests can find egg rolls, crab Rangoon, chicken wings, banh mi and more.

RELATED: Loyal-Phant Market offers traditional Asian foods in Wisconsin Rapids

RELATED: Loyal-Phant Market in Wisconsin Rapids now serving egg rolls, crab Rangoon, banh mi

Contact Caitlin at or follow her on Twitter @CaitlinShuda.

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