A delayed sign of spring: Rudy’s Drive-In opens Friday in La Crosse

A delayed sign of spring: Rudy’s Drive-In opens Friday in La Crosse

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Rudy's Drive-In

Rudy’s Drive-In owner Gary Rudy puts out cones March 26 before its planned opening in La Crosse. Rudy is using the cones to close off every other parking spot to create space between customers as a precaution against the novel coronavirus.

Like seeing the first robin, La Crosse-area residents have long welcomed the opening of Rudy’s Drive-in for the season as a sign that spring has arrived.

The iconic drive-in at 1004 La Crosse St. will open Friday, a week later than usual, with all food and beverages packaged to go.

Opening day was delayed in case the state made any changes in new coronavirus-related rules that allow Wisconsin bars and restaurants to only offer food and beverages for take-out and/or delivery.

“Normally, we try to open by the first day of spring,” owner Gary Rudy said.

COVID Rudy's

Rudy’s Drive-In at 1004 La Crosse Street will open Friday with some changes to comply with new rules for COVID-19.

Because of the new rules, Rudy’s won’t have inside dining when it opens, and all food and beverages will be packaged to go. Customers will be asked not to eat or drink what they buy on the drive-in’s premises.

They will be able to place orders by telephone, or by speaking into one of the drive-in’s menu boards as they have in the past. But traffic cones will be used to ensure that two cars aren’t parked side-by-side in a stall.

“We’ll practice a 6-foot rule,” Rudy said. “We’ll only have one car per stall.” Carhops will bring the packaged food and beverages to the customer.

Hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. “Those will be subject to change, after we try them for a week,” Rudy said.

Rudy said he wants to operate the La Crosse drive-in for a week or two before he and general manager Justin Smith decide when they will open the Rudy’s Drive-in in Sparta.

Rudy has owned the La Crosse drive-in since 1979. He and Smith, who has worked at the La Crosse location for 25 years, bought the former A&W drive-in in Sparta that they have operated as the second Rudy’s Drive-in since 2009.

The La Crosse drive-in will open for the season with about 25 to 30 employees, down from the usual 45 to 50. Most of the employees are part time.

Most La Crosse-area restaurants that normally offer inside dining have closed temporarily because of the coronavirus-related state rules, said Rudy, who also is president of the La Crosse chapter of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Some that normally offer inside dining are offering pick-up and delivery service, while others tried that but later closed temporarily, Rudy said.

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