The BUZZ: Year in REVIEW

Many shops, restaurants and services in the Wausau area unleashed big plans in 2016. For some, the expansion meant taking a crack at the national stage. For others it was opening a second or third locations. We looked back at these expansions, with a few updates:

Two local businesses sought to offer their products nationwide. Condor Coffee, produced in


B.C. Kowalski/City Pages

With a second high-capacity roaster, Alberto Araya’s Condor Coffee started a regional and nationwide expansion.

the town of Easton, just east of Wausau, announced in January 2016 that it would seek national distribution for its coffee, which is already available pretty much anywhere you go locally, from farmers markets to coffee shops to school fundraisers, Trig’s grocery stores, and even a new gas station in Kronenwetter. Owner Alberto Araya says the goal is to target people everywhere who simply appreciate high quality coffee. Condor won’t compete with the Folgers or Maxwell Houses of the world, but Araya does want to make it a go-to for those who appreciate good coffee. They added a second high-capacity roaster to get the job done.

Dr. Noodles announced it would be doing the same. Since the business began in 2014, Dr. Noodles has been clawing its way into supermarkets in the region. Their pasta products are made from garbanzo beans, making them a healthier noodle, one that people with diabetes or Celiac’s disease can consume (or frankly just dieters in general). The noodles, a popular choice among some restaurants looking to serve a gluten free option, are now available online on the Dr. Noodles website.

A more local example of expansion in 2016: Rib Mountain Cycles, which first expanded into the storefront next door to build a fitting room. A few months ago, the store announced it was expanding yet again, taking over all but one space in the small strip mall in which it is located.

Another bike shop, Trek Store announced it would add a Stevens Point location,

John Nowaczyk at the Trek Store in Wausau

B.C. Kowalski/City Pages

John Nowaczyk at the Trek Store in Wausau

Trek store manager John Nowaczyk says the business will add a Stevens Point location in 2017.

complementing the two Green Bay locations and one in Wausau.

Speaking of new locations, Becca’s Café in Rib Mountain opened its second location Dec. 12 in Weston.

Lift Athletics managed to open its first location and expand into a second one all in the same year. First, the fitness center, which focuses primarily on weights and Crossfit, set up shop on Grand Avenue in Wausau, in the building that also houses Firestone Tires. A few months later, the owners announced a second Lift would open in Rib Mountain in the former Dollar General building. Offering more general types of fitness, the Rib Mountain location is slated to open Jan. 4.

This year also saw some interesting flips and swaps.

Mountain Lanes, that iconic A-frame building on the hill on 17th Avenue, had a rebirth of sorts. After dealing with some devastating health concerns, owner Connie Nowicki announced she was back to work and ready to restore Mountain Lanes to its former glory. The large building and its bar with a mural depicting famous musicians of the 1970s had a lot of potential, but business had withered away in her absence.

But roughly six months after Nowicki’s announced comeback, Mountain Lanes instead changed hands. The owners of Jump On It bounce house in the Wausau Center mall announced they had bought Mountain Lanes and were moving their business there. Redubbing it Mountain Lanes Family Fun Center, the west side business still offers bowling, but now also a restaurant and party rentals.

Speaking of flips, two businesses housed in the former Hardee’s building in Rothschild saw changes. Periwinkles opened on one side of the building, replacing the Wooden Cup. Previously owned by Dale and Leilani Neumann, whose case in the death of their child drew national attention, the new owners sought to distance themselves and changed the name.

They’ve been doing well, but the businesses sharing the building were not so lucky. After Checkers, a burger joint, closed down at the beginning of 2016, Godfather’s Pizza opened in the location in June. After the owner decided to sever ties with the Godfather’s franchise, he redubbed it Pappy’s Pizza. Reviews online weren’t kind, and the restaurant closed down a few months later.

In more positive pizza news, Fat Joe’s Pizzeria opened in the former Pizza Hut location on Grand Avenue in Wausau—a building that had sat empty for decades. Opening took a couple of months longer than initially expected, but the restaurant has been hopping ever since, and reviews have been mostly positive.


B.C. Kowalski/City Pages

Fat Joe’s Pizzeria owner Joe Hixon, in spring 2016, as he started fixing up the long-vacant building on Grand Avenue.

Another former Pizza Hut building is slinging out the pies again, with Rosati’s Chicago-style Pizza opening in the west side location on First Avenue in Wausau.

Can we talk about Wausau Center mall? First, a plan to move Younkers into the empty JC Penney’s wing fell through, and mall owner CBL ended up dumping the entire property to its lender. All indications point to the new owner, Mid-America Asset Management, being more proactive than its predecessor.

Then Sears dropped a bomb in June announcing its closure, after multiple assurances from mall management that the Wausau location would be one of the last to go in the Sears lineup. The city of Wausau is finalizing plans to buy the space (it’s technically a separate building from the mall) and flip it into something new. A request for proposals brought two ideas for the mall, and one of them, a multi-plex theater, is likely to happen. City leaders are scrambling to find another spot for HOM Furniture, which also expressed interest in the spot.

Wausau Center is not the only mall seeing some changes. Businesses are starting to come back to Cedar Creek Mall in Rothschild. Ginormous gym Planet Fitness opened there in fall of 2015. Then this summer, Chase Outdoors relocated to Cedar Creek from another Rothschild building. Also new to the mall are Natural Nails and Phantom Laser Tag. Phantom, originally slated for the former Pope’s Hobbyland building, was a big get for the south metro mall.

Changes to come

Some of the best business ideas kicked off this year, but are still in the works. In early 2017, we’ll see the grand opening of the Wausau on the Water entertainment complex, the flagship building in Wausau’s 16-acre, record-breaking East Riverfront Development. Aimed at bringing young professionals and empty nesters downtown, the project includes a proposed $100 million of new commercial and residential buildings just north of downtown along the east side of the Wisconsin River.

The city is pairing that with a two-phase, multi-million parks project the likes of which the city has never seen before. Much of that waterfront park area is nearly done (crews were still working this month). Br speing 2017, we’ll see a fully complete River’s Edge Trail, along with a wharf for boats and an Adirondack area for relaxing. Next year expect amenities like a giant chess and checkers set and a rock climbing area under the Bridge Street bridge.

Also under construction in 2016 and planning to open soon is Masa Sushi Grill & Bar, in the former Cherry Berry spot at 1800 West Stewart Avenue. In downtown Wausau, Crostini Bar will open in the former St. Clair’s menswear building on Third Street. Crostini, says owner Troy Davis, will combine Wisconsin craft beer and wines with tapas style food and mini gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. It aims for a cool, hip vibe, with device charging stations all around. The new target opening date is Jan. 15.