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WE Fest has huge impact on business

Aaron Swenson, owner of Bleacher's Bar and Grill on Highway 22, prepared for incoming WE Fest crowds early in the week by stocking coolers full of extra beer. (Courtney Sinner/DL Newspapers)

With tens of thousands of people migrating to the Detroit Lakes area for WE Fest weekend, local businesses mark their calendars early and start planning for an influx of business.

Because camping and concerts generally includes a fair amount of alcohol, Lakes Liquors Manager Brad MacMaster said they receive about 800 cases of liquor and wine, as well as thousands of cases of beer over the course of the weekend to satiate the crowds -- about twice the normal amount of freight for a summer weekend.

It's not just arrival and departure days that it's busy, either, he said -- people stop in to stock up around the clock.

Still, WE Fest weekend isn't as busy as the Fourth of July holiday, MacMaster said.

For Aaron Swenson, owner and manager of Bleacher's Bar and Grill on Highway 22, being so close to Soo Pass Ranch means doubling, or even tripling, his beer and liquor order for the weekend.

In addition, the year-old bar is repeating its "Kegs and Eggs" special on Friday and Saturday morning, meaning Swenson and his staff are ordering bread, sausage and dozens of eggs to feed an estimated 100 Fest-goers each day.

The deal is $10 for all-you-can-eat (or drink) tap beer and eggs from 9 a.m. until noon, but Swenson said most people just "want food in their belly."

"We piggyback it right into lunch, too -- noon will roll around and we'll have the burgers on the grill," he said.

Bleacher's will also be closed on Sunday. Swenson said they'd planned to re-stain the exterior of the building anyway, so it falls on a nice time to clean up after the festival.

At Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes, operating partner Tate Jansen said they're opening two hours earlier than normal, at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., and are staffing their kitchen longer hours to accommodate.

"More people come in wanting to drink at 9 a.m., but our food orders are ridiculous," Jansen said.

Zorbaz even created a special "Fezter" pizza for the month of August - a pepperoni pie with buttermilk ranch instead of tomato sauce -- inspired by the typical WE-Fester order.

"We noticed that a lot of people from WE Fest were ordering pepperoni pizzas and getting ranch on the side, so we thought we'd just skip the extra step," he said. "Most kids are coming around here anyway to swim or bathe in the lake."

Jansen said a typical summer weekend would see most business at night, from 5 p.m. until close, but during WE Fest, it's more of a morning and lunch crowd, which brings more Bloody Mary orders.

Zorbaz makes its own mix for the drink, but Jansen said they increase the preparation of it by about 150 percent for this particlar weekend.

Their kitchen stays open until 2 a.m., too, so Jansen said they've been starting to see more late-night orders over the years.

Still, some said the few days before WE Fest is even more challenging than the weekend itself.

At the liquor store, MacMaster said he had customers coming in last week to pick up their beverages, and will start planning for next year as soon as this one is over.

"They're our guests, and we're glad to have them," MacMaster said of the extra customers.

Swenson said once the concertgoers arrive in the area, it's all about having fun.

"There's a lot of buildup. It's more work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just with the prep," he said. "Once they get here, we sling out the drinks and sling out the food, and that's when it gets more fun."