The Plaza Tavern and Grill has raised over 70,000 dollars from nearly 1.5 thousand people in the past week after creating a GoFundMe to keep the historic institution open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since it opened in the 1930s, the Plaza Tavern has come to be seen as a beloved staple of the downtown bar scene with generations of Madisonians having experiences frequenting the establishment.
However, since the onset of COVID-19, Dane County has issued several sets of restrictions greatly limiting the indoor seating capacity of restaurants and bars in an attempt to prevent infections. Without any available outdoor seating, the Plaza Tavern has largely had to financially rely on delivering food to customers, a business model that 20-year manager Erica DeRosa has claimed is not sustainable.
“Our business model is not set up to rely on the food aspect. The food is kind of a bonus when you come to Plaza. We are a bar, so it’s quite difficult to afford [to stay] open,” DeRosa said in an interview.
In response, owner Dean Hetue, alongside managers Ian Miller and DeRosa, created a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $75,000 in order to keep the Plaza Tavern open until restrictions are lifted. Miller and DeRosa were in the process of acquiring the bar when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Dean, Erica and Ian have been volunteering their time without pay to continue serving the Plaza food so many have grown to love,” the fundraiser’s page reads. “While they are committed to keeping the tradition alive, this isn’t sustainable for an extended period of time. Financial help has come from many of the wonderful regulars and friends, and has been greatly appreciated and needed.”.
In an outpouring of public support, Plaza received over 2/3 of the requested funds in less than 48 hours, prompting Ian Millar to post a response on the bar’s go fund me.
“Wow! We have to be blunt. We knew how many people shared the importance of the Plaza, but didn’t expect how fast that would add up,” he wrote. “Thank you all for making the difference! We are dumbfounded and so appreciative by your generosity!”
As the week continued, over $70,000 was raised to support the Plaza Tavern. Donors left hundreds of comments on the page recalling pre-COVID memories at the establishment.
“I met my wife in a Plaza booth in 1992. More than happy to support this Madison institution,” one comment read. “I want the next generation of students to enjoy a plaza burger #save the plaza.”
UW-Madison student and alumni donors appear to make up a large portion of the contributions, with a certain popular online forum advocating for associates of the university to make donations.
“Fellow kids, Plaza is having a tough time making it through the pandemic and needs help!! Alumni are hereby required to donate $1 for each long island they have ever had at Plaza,” announced alumnus Shane Linden on the “UW-Madison Memes for Milk-Chugging Teens” Facebook group.
Bremen Keasey was one of the many UW-Madison alumni that answered the call.
“I think this is a bar that transcends generations. I had friends in college whose parents went to the UW and would talk about their memories at Plaza so there’s obviously some pretty deep ties with the student body that go back for decades,” Keasey said. “A lot of the other bars downtown are newer but they don't have the same history that Plaza does.”
As of the time of publishing, the Plaza Tavern has raised $73,451 of its $75,000 goal.