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'I know that this is the right decision': AJ Dixon on closing Lazy Susan restaurant after 9 years

Head chef and owner, AJ Dixon, at Lazy Susan restaurant.
Audrey Nowakowski
Head chef and owner, AJ Dixon, at Lazy Susan restaurant.

Lazy Susanhas been a part of Milwaukee’s dining scene for almost a decade. At the start of the new year, head chef and owner AJ Dixon made the announcement that their final dinner service will be on April 8th — exactly nine years to the day since the restaurant first opened. It's one of the latest examples of how hard it is for restaurants to stay sustainable.

For Dixon, the economic impacts of the pandemic, rising costs, and the stress of running such a demanding business had her mental health all contributed to the decision to close. Despite the closing, Dixon is far from disappointed in what she and the staff at Lazy Susan have accomplished, and she’s looking ahead to her next chapter.

Dixon says she's simultaneously feeling a wide range of emotions with the upcoming final day of service including tirednesses, happiness, anger and stress. Mostly, however, she feels excited to be done.

After a financially rough 2022, Dixon decided to close after not being able to pay herself in December of that year — a time that's typically a restaurant's "bread and butter month."

The holiday season took a "very serious mental strain" on Dixon. "I was going down a deep, dark path and I needed to makes some changes to pull myself out of it," she recalls. Once she figured out her Plan A and Plan B, Dixon decided it was time to start the process of closing Lazy Susan.

"I've always been an advocate of taking care of yourself, and I'm probably the person that takes care of myself the least... I take care of everyone else but myself, and for once, I finally decided that no, I am taking care of myself and it is OK to be done and it is OK to do it," says Dixon.

After having some preliminary conversations with staff members and a tearful full staff meeting, Dixon says her staff has been nothing but supportive and agreed to stay on through the closing in April.

There are multiple avenues that Dixon is eager to explore for her next chapter. For the immediate future, she's looking forward to fishing, kayaking and hanging out with friends. Though she's not looking to work right away and take some time off professionally, Dixon is possibly looking to teach in the culinary department at Milwaukee Area Technical College. In the meantime, Dixon is enjoying the process of closing out this chapter of her life and career and rediscovering her extensive member personal collection of around 450 unique salt and pepper shaker sets.

She doesn't find herself being disappointed, though she admits she struggled with feelings of failure at certain points but she's proud of what's she's accomplished —including coming out of a pandemic.

"I know that this is the right decision, and I feel good about it," says Dixon. "And once I had made the decision, it literally felt like a million bricks had been lifted off of me and I’ve never felt better, like never felt better."

For her final meals, Dixon is going back to her "old Lazy Susan days" and changing their menu every week, and even every other day. She says she's enjoying the creativity of using what is in season as well as what she has persevered.

Dixon has no intent of selling the name of her restaurant or any of her approximately 450 salt and pepper shakers that she's collected. In the summer, Heirloom MKE will be taking over the restaurant space.

Dixon says that the response from the community has been positive since the closing announcement despite some understandable sadness.

"I'm very honest with people and I just say, 'I'm done.' I mean, try working 60 hours to 70 hours a week for nine years," she notes. "I have two children, I miss them, I want to spend more time with them, and that this isn't my entire life. This is one chapter of my life and it's been amazing."

As a restaurant owner, Dixon offers this message to the community: "If you really like a restaurant, go and don't wait till it's too late... Restaurants need serious, serious, serious support. And the thing of it is restaurants need support every day. So it's like one slow week can really make or break an entire month for some people... Supporting small business is really, really important because we are the backbone of most neighborhoods."


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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