OSHKOSH – Like many other communities, the pandemic took a toll on Oshkosh: The top business stories for the year reflected the highs and lows our community saw in 2021, from Oshkosh Corp.’s new contract with the United States Postal Service to some beloved restaurants closing, and all manner of fish fries and chicken in between.
Check out the list below for a recap of what readers paid the most attention to in 2021’s Oshkosh Northwestern business news. Having moved here in June, I couldn’t have done this reporting by myself. These stories come from the whole Northwestern team, including my predecessor, and a former coworker from the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Oshkosh Corp.-USPS mail truck contract
The year’s most read business stories were about Oshkosh Corp. landing a contract with USPS to upgrade the Postal Service’s mail truck fleet, and the criticism of the contract from competitors and lawmakers who supported them.
“Oshkosh Corp. under fire for USPS contract for mail trucks” by my talented former coworker Nusaiba Mizan was this year’s most-read business story. Mizan covered regional business news for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The story examined concerns about the contract, which called for Oshkosh Corp. to make up to 165,000 “next-generation” vehicles for the Postal Service, from lawmakers and Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based electric vehicle maker that was also in the bidding for the service contract.
In fact, three of the year’s most read business stories revolved around the USPS-Oshkosh Corp. contract, including Mizan’s original story making the announcement.
She also covered a resolution that Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, introduced in March that asked President Joe Biden to halt the federal contract, citing a “direct contrast” between the percentage of Oshkosh Corp. trucks that initially would use electric power and a Jan. 27 executive order requiring government agencies to begin transitioning to electric vehicles.
Lawmakers also demanded an investigation into accusations of “inappropriate influence” by the company.
In June, Oshkosh Defense chose a South Carolina location to manufacture the USPS vehicles.
Bar owners, and this reporter, learn about Oshkosh’s liquor license policies
I was blown away by how much interest there was in a story about a former bar losing its liquor license.
A potential buyer lost interest in the former Brass Rail property at 1812 Algoma Blvd. after it lost its liquor license in August.
Among other reasons, the city revoked the license because it was in violation of an ordinance requiring liquor license holders to actively use the license or lose it. The interest led to me working on a follow-up story about the use-it-or-lose-it policy and the city’s licensing requirements for bars.
Beloved Oshkosh restaurants closing due to COVID-19, labor shortages
Oshkosh establishments were not immune to the fallout from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the staffing issues faced by restaurants around the country.
Our stories highlighted Oshkosh Northwestern readers’ investment in this topic. I covered the popular lunch spot, Lunch Box, closing at its former City Center location (stay tuned for a story on the Brazilian restaurant slated to take over the space in January). I also talked to the former Red’s Pizza owner, Steve Lawler, about his decision in September to close the restaurant after 64 years.
Unfortunately, those weren’t the only restaurants we lost in 2021. Some, like Primo Restaurant and DD’s BBQ Company, cited a shortage of workers for closing. The Oregon Street Mexican restaurant South of the Border also closed this summer after 18 years, though owner Stephanie Becerra said she made the decision to spend more time with her family.
In happier restaurant news, popular corner bar Jansen’s is getting some updates after it changed ownership in November. New owner Travis Lee also owns Three One Four Pizza just down the road.
Former Menominee Nation Arena announces name change
My September story on the rebranded Oshkosh Arena was announced just before the opening of the Wisconsin Herd’s 2021-22 season. It included updating the logos and changing the former Maple Pub to 1212 Sports Bar & Grill.
The original story by Northwestern Editor Nathaniel Shuda announcing that the Menominee Nation would end its sponsorship also made this year’s top business news.
That wasn’t the only news coming out of Oshkosh’s Sawdust District. Plans are moving forward for new housing projects in the area, including a new apartment complex in the old Miles Kimball building that’s expected to be completed in 2022.
A committee in July also selected T. Wall Enterprises’ proposal for “The Mill on Main” at 43 E. Seventh Ave. The mixed-use commercial and residential complex could transform that section of the Fox River waterfront. Developers are asking for the city’s help in funding that project.
Oshkosh Northwestern readers love their fish and fried chicken
Readers and fried chicken fanatics were thrilled to learn that Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen was ‘definitely coming to Oshkosh,’ as my predecessor Lydia Slattery reported in April.
Folks were just as excited to hear that Popeyes secured a location on Oshkosh Avenue, when I wrote about site plans for a nontraditional Popeyes restaurant being approved in July.
The Popeyes on Oshkosh Avenue is slated to open in mid-March.
Meanwhile, our readers are also passionate about their Friday night fish fries.
Our two reader polls this year placed Roxy Supper Club at the top of the list, so I decided to check it out myself (I wasn’t disappointed). I learned Oshkosh and several spots throughout Winnebago County have a lot of good options for a tasty fish fry.
T.J. Rodgers buys Oshkosh Northwestern building
Readers were curious to read about the Oshkosh native and California-based investor who surprised everyone when he announced in September that he had bought the Northwestern building, 224 State St.
T.J. Rodgers, who also owns TJ’s Highland Steakhouse at the Oshkosh Country Club, TJ’s Harbor Restaurant and helped revive Ardy & Ed’s Drive-In purchased the building for $2 million. He shared his ideas for the building, including a boutique hotel, but said he wants to hear how others want to see the 57,280-square-foot space used.
He does not have a timeline for the project.
Green Lake’s Heidel House reopens
We’re rounding out the top stories on a high note: Green Lake’s historic Heidel House reopened this summer.
The city of Green Lake received a $250,000 Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to renovate the historic resort.
It reopened after an extensive remodel that included a new lobby, guest rooms, banquet rooms, pools and “reinvented” restaurants.