Residents at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King in Waupaca County once again have access to an array of made-to-order food in their cafe on Rainbow Lake.
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that it has reopened its popular coffee shop and cafe with an expanded menu, an updated open-concept floor plan and new furniture. The cafe now offers hot dogs, chili, several kinds of pizza, soup, hamburgers, fries, onion rings and cheese curds.
“Giving our members at our three veterans homes the high-quality care they deserve as well as the amenities that make these homes a comfortable place to live is a top priority," said WDVA Secretary Dan Zimmerman in a statement. "The rejuvenation of this café wouldn’t have been possible without the input of our members, staff and the volunteers who spend so much time here. The café can now be enjoyed by veterans, families and friends for years to come."
The cafe was closed and replaced with vending machines in 2016 after the agency, led by John Scocos at the time, said it was losing money and had to close the shop because of budget constraints. That year the agency still transferred millions of dollars in excess revenue away of the home to pay for other agency programs.
The cafe is one of the most popular gathering spots on the King campus, which has four residence halls and more than 600 residents. Because meals at King are scheduled and made ahead of time, the cafe was the only place on campus to get a variety of foods made fresh to order.
When it closed, there was an outcry among residents. After Zimmerman took over the agency in 2017, he said after listening to resident concerns, reopening the cafe was a priority.
“It was clearly just a budget decision,” Zimmerman said in a 2017 interview. “It was running in the red at a $7,000 deficit. That’s it. It’s just a management issue. Those are the kinds of things when you start looking at how to ensure that those (workers) stay there, listen to them. Small things like the coffee shop make a big difference.”
The cafe, located in the Marden Activity Center at King, is part of an ongoing renovation of the whole building, the Department of Veterans Affairs said.
The agency is also upgrading its Alley 5 bar, which is adjacent to an indoor bowling alley in the Marden Center. The agency spent $189,000 on the cafe and bar upgrade, which included furniture and new flooring, said WDVA spokeswoman Carla Vigue.
WDVA also plans to improve landscape around the building and open a new veterans museum.