The Fort, a family affair

FORT ATKINSON - Small towns are great. Everyone is a neighbor and looks out for one another. That’s one of the reasons Ron Gerleman returned to Fort Atkinson after moving to LaCrosse 17 years ago.
Now he owns the local bar, The Fort, and appreciates small-town living. 
Gerleman purchased the bar and grill from his brother, Dan in July 2019. (Dan owned it from 2015-2019. He also ran the bar in the early to mid-1980s.) Ron and his wife, Heather, moved to Calmar with their now almost-seven-year-old son in 2016 to help him with running the business.
It was good to be home, said Ron, who grew up in the town.
A big part of the success of The Fort is the small-town feeling a person gets when he or she walks into the bar. 
But another big part is the food! Ron has a big secret weapon in that department. Its name is Ma — Joanne Gerleman, his mother! She makes all the soups, and they are all scrumptious according to the customers, but the absolute favorite soup is her chicken and dumplings.
Man (nor woman) cannot survive on soup alone. That’s why The Fort offers great specials throughout the week. 
Tuesday is meatloaf, which comes with all the trimmings. Wednesday’s special is hot beef with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. 
Friday’s special is fish all day, and it can be busy with eat-ins and carry out!
“Sometimes we run carry-out specials as well,” Ron explained. Some favorites are buckets of chicken, pizza and fish.
Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are all chef’s choice and off the menu. The business is closed on Monday.
The bar opens every day from 10 a.m. to close. The kitchen is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. from Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.
Drink specials
Locals flock to The Fort on weekends to watch college football on Saturday and enjoy a bucket of beer and wings on Sunday. Make sure to ask for the house special of honey mustard sauce, which is made from scratch.
And don’t worry about missing a play or your favorite team — the bar has six TVs up front and purchases the NFL Sunday Ticket!
Tuesday is Busch Light Night for $1.75. Bucket of beer and wings are also a special on Wednesday night, and Thursday it is $1.50 for a can of beer.
All in the family
Besides Ma helping out with some specialty items, Ron has a sister, two cousins and his brother, Dan, helping out. If you recall, Ron purchased the business from Dan last year. “Now he’s working for me . . . paybacks!” He relented though when he said how grateful he is for the help he has received from his whole family, including his wife. “I have to thank her for letting me do what I love to do.”
It’s the little things
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make customers happy. Just by having a nice, clean establishment that feels bright and airy, one can leave the impression to return again and again. 
Also (Girls will get this.), the bar itself includes purse hangers. It’s the little things that are really big things.
There are also a few video games a person can play, along with Golden Tee (a golf game) and the toy chest for the kids.
“We got a lot of support from the community during COVID. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today,” Ron said. “Everyone came together and made it a lot easier for us.” 
It wasn’t just those in the immediate area who supported the family. Customers came from Cresco, New Hampton, Decorah and many other small towns in the area. “It’s pretty amazing. You can’t beat small towns,” he added.
During COVID, The Fort had to downsize its seating area. “We used to have 11 tables, then we went down to five and now we are up to seven inside. We also have a large space outside with four tables to help with social distancing.”
“I’ve got some of the most loyal customers around,” Ron said. “And my employees are top-of-the-line.” He is content with his business and moving back home. “Everyone’s got your back. That’s what’s great about northeast Iowa.”
Owning a bar is a lot of hard work, he noted, “But the reward is pretty special. When you hear compliments, it makes you feel good.”
Anyone looking for a destination car or bike ride to see the fall colors or just check out how the harvest is going, why not go to a place that appreciates your patronage. The place is The Fort!

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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