Wisocki puts Duluth's Pickwick restaurant up for saleAfter a turbulent year, hurt by the recession and hampered by labor strife at the Pickwick, fourth-generation owner Chris Wisocki says he’s selling the business.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
It’s been called historic, a Duluth landmark and a city tradition.
Pickwick restaurant, once part of the Fitger Brewing Co. and operated by the Wisocki family since 1919, has been all that and more.
But after a turbulent year, hurt by the recession and hampered by labor strife, fourth-generation owner Chris Wisocki says he’s selling the business.
“It’s not the easiest decision in the world,” Wisocki said of ending a 90-year-old family tradition. “It’s just a business decision I made. I’m going to explore other career options.”
His great-grandfather, Joseph Wisocki, bought the business from August Fitger himself back in 1919 and ran the German-style pub until 1954, when his son, Joseph Jr., took over. In 1997, Joseph Jr.’s sons Stephen and Anthony took over. When they retired in 2001, Chris Wisocki, Stephen’s eldest son, became proprietor.
“The Pick’s not going anywhere,” Chris Wisocki said. “I think it’s a wonderful place, and I’m going to make sure it’s still here. I just won’t be here.”
He said he has prospective buyers. But Wisocki declined to say more, including his asking price and whether he has a real estate agent.
On Friday, Wisocki’s attorney gave the union representing the restaurant’s workers notice of Wisocki’s intent to sell.
The letter says the tentative decision to close and/or sell the restaurant is because of severe financial losses the operation incurred in recent years, said Todd Erickson, president of Workers United Union Local 99, which represents most of the restaurant’s 70 employees.
Wisocki challenged his attorney’s use of the word “losses.” But he said: “It’s been a rough year for everybody. Everybody’s business has gone down in the last year.”
He admits being bitter.
“Pickwick’s been pretty much lambasted by the media, and everybody else over the last year, especially over labor issues we’ve had,” he said.
Those labor issues include a contract dispute that dates back nearly a year when, according to Erickson, Wisocki replaced the union contract with one of his own, leading to weeks of picketing and two employees being temporarily locked out.
The National Labor Relations Board determined Wisocki needed to restore the agreement and get back to the negotiating table, Erickson said.
As the union pressed for a best or final offer, the notice of intent to sell came, he said.
Keeping the restaurant a union shop is a concern with a sale, Erickson said. If more than 50 percent of the current employees are rehired, new owners are mandated by law to bargain. But they’re under no obligation if fewer than 50 percent are rehired, Erickson noted.