After a 2½-month winter shutdown that was the restaurant’s first in decades, Tom Seiler Jr. predicts this will be an excellent year at his South Avenue A&W Restaurant at 3005 South Ave.
The restaurant on La Crosse’s South Side has been in his family for nearly a half-century.
In an interview, Seiler’s father, Tom Seiler Sr. said he bought the restaurant from Dale Rudy in 1972. Dale’s father, William Rudy, had built the A&W drive-in there in 1947.
Seiler Jr. has owned the restaurant since 1992.
This past winter, it was closed from Christmas Day until it reopened March 15. It was the restaurant’s first winter shutdown since the early 1980s.
“It was mainly due to COVID,” Seiler Jr. said of the winter shutdown. “People were apprehensive about dining inside. In the winter months, that’s the primary business that we do.
“We decided we’d try to get some updating and remodeling done and close for a few months, until the weather improved and until people started to get vaccinated and improve their comfort level” regarding inside dining, Seiler Jr. said.
“We actually were able to do a lot of remodeling and updating that normally would be very difficult (to do) when you’re open,” he said.
The restaurant can seat about 98 people inside, and has 16 stalls where customers can pull up in cars to order food and have it brought to them by car hops.
The COVID pandemic that started a year ago had a negative effect on the number of customers who came in for inside dining, Seiler Jr. said. But business increased in the 16 stalls with carhop service.
“The outside carhop (service) sales increased more than sales inside decreased,” Seiler said. “Overall, we ended up about the same” in total sales in 2020, compared to the previous year.
“There are still some residual effects” from concern about COVID, Seiler Jr. said. “The inside (dining) is tending to get back to normal. The outside car service is still doing very, very well.
“I think it’s going to be an excellent year” overall, Seiler Jr. said. “With the vaccine (becoming available), people are feeling more comfortable about being out.”
The restaurant was a seasonal one, shutting down for the winter months, until Seiler Sr. renovated and expanded it around 1986. Before then, it could seat only about 30 to 35 people inside, he said.
“I ended up with about three times the square footage that I had before,” Seiler Sr. said of the construction project. Besides additional inside seating and a larger kitchen, the restaurant had a larger menu after the renovation and addition were completed.
Today, some of the restaurant’s biggest-selling menu items include root beer floats, cheeseburgers, coney dogs and cheese curds, Seiler Jr. said.
The La Crosse A&W has 20 to 25 employees.
Seiler Jr. also owns the A&W restaurant that he opened in Winona, Minn., in 2010. “A lot of customers from Winona were making the trip to dine in La Crosse,” he said. “So that seemed a very opportune place to go” to open a second A&W. The Winona restaurant also is open year-round.