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Minocqua Brewing Co. shut down by Oneida County committee

by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
August 4, 2023

An Oneida County Board committee voted on Wednesday to revoke the operating permit of Kirk Bangstad, owner of Minocqua Brewing Company — known widely for its progressive-themed beer and activism. Bangstad has been ordered to shut his business for the time being. 

The decision is the result of a disagreement over parking requirements, plans to add a beer garden and food truck to Bangstad’s business as well as ongoing violations of his operating permit, including allowing customers to sit outside to drink beer. Bangstad has claimed on social media that there is evidence of “political targeting and selective enforcement” by conservatives in the town of Minocqua and Oneida County who moved to shut him down. 

Bangstad runs the Minocqua Brewing Super PAC, which he has used in the past to put billboards up demanding Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany resign from elected office, and in support of progressive candidates, including Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz. He has also used money from the super PAC to launch lawsuits related to enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, and is a former Democratic candidate for the state Assembly.

Conflict between the Minocqua Brewing Company, Oneida County and the town of Minocqua has been ongoing. In 2020, Bangstad was told to remove a Biden-Harris sign from his establishment due to county regulations, and concerns about parking have remained unresolved since he first bought the new space in 2021. 

Bangstad said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he plans to appeal the decision to the county administrative committee, which oversees the zoning committee, and to file for an injunction in federal court to stop the county from enforcing the decision. He added that he will “try to stay open as we’re filing appeals,” but is “not sure how long that will last.”

Wednesday’s meeting came after the committee cut short a meeting last week after the committee said Bangstad wasn’t staying on topic. Bangstad said ahead of the Wednesday meeting at a protest that it was a “foregone conclusion” that the county board would shut his business down.

“For crying out loud, you all have made it impossible for me to do business in this town,” Bangstad told the committee. “[I’m] trying to serve as much beer as possible before you padlock my business.” 

An email from the town of Minocqua Board of Supervisors recommending the denial of Bangstad’s permit was read at the meeting. In the email, board members stated that the town’s position had nothing to do with the “politics of the owner or the political sign the owner displayed years ago or simply a dumpster.” While the county board is responsible for approval, it takes the town’s recommendation into consideration. 

“The hyper partisan …rhetoric we see at the national level has apparently created an opening for conflict entrepreneurs at the local level who seek to benefit from blurring fact and fiction. Too many social media provocateurs seek to take followers to outrage and cultivate conflict rather than dissolve it,” the email stated. “It has been truly unfortunate to see such rhetoric injected into the small town landscape.”

Throughout the ordeal, Bangstad has organized members of the public to testify on his behalf, to email members of the county board and to donate to help with his legal expenses. Dozens spoke at the Wednesday meeting on Bangstad’s behalf, a small number of people compared to the prior week when 100 people showed up on the Zoom portion of the meeting.

Chairman Scott Holewinski said the committee was simply treating Bangstad as it would any other business. 

“Kirk has stepped around all the questions I’ve kinda asked him. He’s made it about parking, politically we’re against him, but the bottom line is that he has violated and violated and violated. He’s been warned and warned and warned, and here we are today,” Holewinski said. 

According to the town’s email, Bangstad had been in “willful and intentional violation” of his operating permit for the two years. Some violations included scheduling a food truck and allowing customers to sit outside to drink beer. His permit only allows indoor activities. 

Bangstad told the committee he started allowing people to sit on an outside stoop attached to the building because he thought his permit would be approved, but it took two months before the committee considered it.

The county is also requesting that Bangstad incorporate parking at his establishment, in accordance with zoning regulations. 

Bangstad argued that having a parking requirement would be detrimental to the traffic flow and that parking minimums are outdated. He added that “enlightened” and tourist communities don’t want to walk over parking lots. 

“We need a compromise with you,” Holewinski said. “We can’t approve the [permit] the way you’re submitting it. My recommendation is to go back, bring us a plan, show us that you can get your six parking spots…and get your driveway through there.” 

Following the meeting’s adjournment, an attendee walked up to Bangstad to ask if she could give him her “two cents.” 

“They’re ready to compromise with you,” she said, referring to the committee. 

“No they’re not,” Bangstad replied.  

“Yes they are,” the attendee insisted. “I think you should take some time, think about this.”

The committee will return next week to continue discussion of Bangstad’s business.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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