Biz Buzz: Dubuque bar reopens; automotive business changes hands; new eatery serving

Sarah Knabel, a bartender at The Dungeon in downtown Dubuque, works at the bar on Monday. The business reopened on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Biz Buzz shares business tidbits from the tri-state area. This week, we highlight developments in Dubuque.

After being mostly shut for nearly a year, a downtown Dubuque bar is back in business.

The Dungeon, 302 Locust St., reopened on Thursday.

Co-owner Jim Kunnert said this marks the first time the business has committed to fully reopening since mid-March, when the spread of COVID-19 prompted statewide shutdowns of bars and restaurants.

Over the past 11 months, The Dungeon has hosted a small number of private parties and occasionally opened, including for special events such as holidays. But Kunnert said business volumes didn’t support a full reopening.

“It just didn’t make sense to keep the doors open and keep going backwards,” Jim said.

The Kunnert family also owns the neighboring Shot Tower Inn, which remained open throughout the pandemic. It wasn’t until recently, however, that the Kunnerts opted to reopen The Dungeon, citing declining COVID-19 cases and relaxed restrictions in Iowa.

Co-owner Cori Kunnert said the bar hired back four bartenders who previously worked there. The business is looking to hire a couple of more in the near future.

“When I called our bartenders, about half of them were ready to come back and the other half weren’t,” she said.

Kunnert has sensed a similar mindset among customers.

Since reopening, Cori Kunnert acknowledged, business has been relatively slow. She knows business levels might continue to be down for a while until more people grow comfortable with venturing out in public.

“We still have concerns about people’s safety,” she said. “We’ve moved tables further apart, we encourage social distancing, and our cleaning and sanitizing efforts have been over the top.”

The Dungeon opened its doors in the spring of 2016. It occupies the lower level of the building that formerly housed Kunnert’s Sports for nearly four decades.

The bar is now open from 4 p.m. until close Thursday, Friday and Saturday. These hours likely will be extended in the future as the owners continue to monitor business levels and COVID-19 trends. It can be reached at 563-845-0480.

AUTO SHOP CHANGES HANDS

A new owner has taken the reins at a longtime automotive shop in Dubuque.

John Scherf became the owner of West Side Automotive, 1010 Century Circle, on the first day of 2021. The business previously had been owned by Joe and Don Vize, who have owned local automotive businesses since the late 1980s.

Scherf emphasized that he is willing to take on a wide range of car repairs and is available around the clock to assist those in need.

“My customers know they can get in touch with me 24/7 and I will help them out,” he said.

While the Vize family members no longer own the business, they still work there, Scherf said. West Side Automotive also continues to employ the office manager and a pair of mechanics that worked under the previous ownership.

“They all bring a tremendous amount of experience to the table,” he said.

Since taking over, Scherf already has made some changes to the facility. He also noted that multiple family members are helping out around the shop, including three of his children and his wife.

“I truly view this business as a family operation,” he said.

Taking over West Side Automotive marks the latest step in a long career in the auto industry.

Over the years, Scherf has worked at Truck Country, served as a mechanic for UPS and run a shop out of his home.

West Side Automotive is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The business can be reached at 563-582-4253.

RESTAURANT CHAIN COMES TO DUBUQUE

A familiar restaurant brand will establish a presence in Dubuque.

Bennigan’s On the Fly will open with its full menu on Monday, Feb. 22, in the city and offer about 20 established favorites from the well-known restaurant chain. Some featured items will be available as early as Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The new food option will come in the form of a “virtual kitchen,” meaning products will be available for pickup or delivery, but a traditional Bennigan’s-themed dine-in experience will not be offered for customers.

Items will be cooked within an existing kitchen at Holiday Inn Dubuque, 450 Main St.

“There’s a huge demand for new food in this market,” said hotel General Manager Elliott Rhoad. “ … But many people are still hesitant to go out to dinner. I think this is the perfect time to bring this new concept to the market.”

Bennigan’s is an Irish-themed restaurant chain that was founded in 1976. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy in 2008, a move that resulted in the closure of most restaurant locations.

The new “On the Fly” concept recently garnered the attention and support of Kinseth Hospitality, a hotel management, development and ownership company that oversees dozens of properties, including the Holiday Inn in Dubuque. Kinseth Hospitality also will open a Bennigan’s On The Fly in Coralville, Iowa, this quarter.

Customers can place orders for curbside pickup or have items delivered through a third-party service.

Rhoad emphasized that River Rock Kitchen and Tap in the Holiday Inn will not be affected by the presence of Bennigan’s On the Fly.

Customers can place orders at BennigansOnTheFly-Dubuque.com.