A lot of things have gone virtual this year but a popular Sun Prairie restaurant launch of the city’s first virtual kitchen is for very real appetites.

Pizza, mac and cheese, and wings are the mainstays of WisCow’s menu: what owner Greg Frankov calls the “perfect trifecta” of food that people are craving right now.

WisCow’s virtual kitchen is riding on the coattails of its existing restaurant, the popular Monk’s Bar and Grill that opened in Prairie Lakes in 2014.

Frankov learned about the virtual kitchen concept five years ago but the COVID-19 spring shutdown motivated him to try it to boost business.

WisCow opened in January, with Frankov investing in pizza ovens and other equipment for the start-up.

The menu includes six specialty pizzas — the spicy meatball has tallied up the most fans so far, with the Buffalo chicken, bacon cheeseburger, and tater tot bacon mac n cheesy pizzas, trying to overtake it. The veggie and deluxe pizzas round out the menu. Create-your-own pizzas can be topped with the regulars, plus pulled pork, chicken tenders, and even Impossible meat.

With lots of competition in the Sun Prairie pizza arena, Frankov said WisCow is concentrating on quality ingredients with the “go bigger or go home” motto.

Frankov said smoked wings set WisCow apart from its rivals, with seven specialty sauces, ranging from the classic Buffalo to honey sriracha. Prices range from $7.99 for six wings to $24.99 for 24.

Hangover mac & cheese with tater tots, green peppers, onion, mushrooms, ham, bacon, fried egg and hot sauce is part of a trio of gourmet mac & cheese entrees on the menu.

WisCow has a separate phone and online order system from Monk’s and the menu is available for pick-up and delivery, and also for dine-in at Monk’s.

The virtual, ghost, or cloud kitchen concept operates by a myriad of configurations — some connected with restaurants, some not. The pandemic reportedly accelerated the trend for food entrepreneurs who want to bypass costly brick and mortar dining operations, COVID-19 in-person dining restrictions, and focus on a nimble online order and delivery service.

Adding the WisCow brand has boosted carry-out and delivery business, but Frankov said like many dine-in restaurants, Monk’s is still struggling with about 25-30 percent of business compared to pre-COVID dine-in numbers.

Frankov said he’s tried hard to keep his staff and even offered them food from the restaurant’s coolers when the restaurant shut down for a week during the safer-at-home order.

Once the restaurant ramped up carryout and curbside, Frankov said he was able to bring back most of his loyal employees, but some have decided not to come back for various reasons; a career change, going back to school, or fear of the virus.

Last week Monk’s saw a good week and Frankov said the COVID-19 vaccination rollout has made him optimistic but he doesn’t expect the dine-in restaurant business to come back until the end of summer. With 25 percent capacity limits now, Frankov said he needs Dane County public health orders to allow 100 percent in order to make money.

“Right now business is not sustainable,” Frankov added. “We need to be back to where we were at before the pandemic because the restaurant profit margin is so tight—just pennies on the dollar. People in the restaurant business don’t go into it to make a ton of money, it is about the passion for the food.”

WisCow offshoots are also in Middleton and Verona. The Plover location is expected to open in early March with a dine-in spot.

Frankov has signed on to the Wisconsin Restaurant Association “Ready to Serve Safely” campaign to signal to customers that his business is following COVID-19 safety protocols and public health orders. A handful of Sun Prairie restaurants are part of the pledge.

Although there’s been a more emphasis on buying local, Frankov says based on the full parking lots at big restaurant chains, some consumers may be forgoing that advice.

But with a menu that is kid-friendly, affordable, and delivers well, Frankov is betting WisCow will find a spot on diners’ must-order list.

“Sun Prairie families have helped us out,” he says. “And at the end of the day, we need that support to keep going.”

Find out more at https://wiscowpizza.com.

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