ROCHELLE AND RICK Ford, second and third from left, hand the keys of Ford’s Gathering to Lindsay Krueger, left, and Micayla Merrifield. Studio 708 photo
by Joe Schulz
When Ford’s Gathering Wine & Craft Beer Bar closed its doors in March due to COVID-19, it was unknown when — or if — the bar would reopen.
The venue’s owners, Rick and Rochelle Ford, eventually decided not to open the bar this summer, even after Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order was lifted.
Then, in early June, Lindsay Krueger’s parents caught wind that Rick and Rochelle weren’t planning to reopen and were looking to sell the building.
In response, Krueger contacted her good friend from college, Micayla Merrifield, and the duo concocted a plan that would enable the bar to reopen, and enable the building to stay on the market.
On June 6, Krueger and Merrifield met with Rick and Rochelle to pitch their idea. They offered to run the business this summer, with the option to purchase the building in the fall.
Less than a week later, the duo reopened Ford’s Gathering, with Merrifield serving as manager and Krueger serving as the primary investor.
“It was a quick turnaround,” Krueger said. “We got the names of all of the distributors, cleaned the place and set up a kitchen before we had our soft opening on June 11.”
Ford’s Gathering is open Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., Fridays from 3 to 10 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Merrifield and Krueger aim to keep the spirit of Ford’s Gathering alive, while adding some new twists to the business.
For example, food is now served everyday and the bar offers happy hour Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m. In addition, the venue is offering yoga on the Fox River every Sunday at 11 a.m.
Ford’s Gathering offers a variety of seating options. Studio 708 photo
While the duo is changing things up, it has kept certain traditions, such as offering live music on Saturdays and hosting the Float with Friends on the Fox event, which benefits the Regional Area Dive and Rescue Team.
“We’d really like to continue on with a lot of the traditions that Rochelle started,” Krueger said. “She did so much for the community and I would love to be able to continue that.”
After years of serving the community, Rochelle expressed her gratitude to Princeton for its support over the years in a July 4 Facebook post.
“Thank you to all the beautiful people who have supported so much and will continue to support the Princeton community,” Rochelle wrote. “Thank you all for being the most loyal, fun-loving, caring patrons. We are grateful for Micayla Merrifield and Lindsay [Krueger] continuing the legacy.”
Although this is the duo’s first time running a business, Merrifield brings years of experience working in restaurants and bars.
“I’ve always worked in bars. I had my first restaurant job when I was 15, so this opportunity just seemed pretty natural for me,” she said. “I actually lost my job in Chicago at the end of May, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
At previous eateries, Merrifield has had good managers that she’s tried to emulate at Ford’s Gathering, which has helped her ease into the new role.
“I think the key to managing the bar is being really personable because I’m the face of the bar,” she said.
Merrifield isn’t a native Wisconsinite as she’s originally from Texas, which is where she met Krueger. They met at The University of Texas at Austin nine years ago, and have developed a friendship that remains strong to this day.
Now that they’ve become business partners, Merrifield has had to quickly teach Krueger the art of bartending.
“On opening night [Merrifield] was like, ‘Oh yeah, I know exactly how to do all this,’ and I had no concept of how to do anything,” Krueger said. “I was so nervous that I was sweating, but everyone was just so nice to us, and I think that was a huge help.”
Beyond teaching Krueger how to bartend, Merrifield noted the Princeton community has welcomed her with open arms.
“I’ve heard of Southern hospitality, but Wisconsin hospitality is a whole ‘nother ball game,” Merrifield said. “The people here are truly the most nice, genuine people ever.”
Currently, the duo plans to run the bar until September, at which point it will be given a chance to purchase the building.
The duo isn’t sure whether it will purchase Ford’s Gathering, as the coronavirus pandemic has created vast uncertainty.
“With how quickly the world has changed in the past three months, I really have no idea where I’ll be in September,” Krueger said.
Even so, the duo continues “having a blast” running the bar, and it hopes the community continues to support Ford’s Gathering.
“Everyone in the community has been so supportive and welcoming,” Krueger said. “I think they really want to see Ford’s [Gathering] be a success because they love coming to this bar.”