Restaurants on both sides of the Red River are looking to add patio space, in order to have pleasant summer seating and help increase social distancing options for customers. For East Grand Forks establishments, a patio could be a way to keep them afloat, as frustrations mount in the face of state restrictions.

Management at The Spud Jr. downtown in East Grand Forks and the American Legion are interested in adding outdoor seating, as the state prepares to allow bars and restaurants, currently barred from having on-site customers, to do so beginning on Monday, June 1. The Spud Jr. ownership has also asked the city to consider allowing it to have a parklet on a city street, modeled after the Grand Forks mini-park program.

“Hopefully, that would give us a fair amount of seating capacity to help try and maximize whatever sales we can take out of this,” said Justin LaRoque, one of the owners of The Spud Jr.

LaRoque said some business owners in East Grand Forks are frustrated over state guidelines, which they say are vague and heavy-handed. Even after they are allowed to open patio space to customers, if they have such space, plenty of questions remain as they are still not allowed to have traffic in the building.

“There's no mention of how people are supposed to go to the bathroom, there's no mention of what happens if it rains,” LaRoque said. “I feel like it's just been one lob after another of not very well thought out narratives that are being put on us.”

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Terry Buraas, adjutant of the American Legion post in East Grand Forks, expressed similar frustration. The Legion intends to hold an outdoor fundraiser for its building in early June, but questions remain about letting patrons use the restroom, and whether or not the group needs to put a fence around the apron space that abuts the building’s facade. Buraas said they are waiting on guidance from the city.

“Everything feeds from the top down, and we're the down, the very bottom,” Buraas said.

Businesses in North Dakota can allow a limited number of customers inside the premises, so there is no question of where they can use the restroom. This makes a patio a comfortable option for customers to enjoy nice weather.

Downtown Grand Forks pub Bonzers has asked the city to expand its liquor license footprint to allow it to convert a few parking spaces behind the building into a patio. Pub owner Matt Bonzer said a patio would help him draw in more customers during his slower season, while adding space to help them maintain social distance.

“We want to provide an option for customers that maybe don't feel comfortable coming in, even with the current guidelines,” Bonzer said. “If they had an outdoor option, they'd be open to coming.”

According to some restaurant managers, weather, rather than worry over COVID-19, is the main reason some customers have been dining outside.

“As far as I know, it’s just because it’s been nice out,” said Alexis White, who manages the Crooked Pint Ale House on Columbia Road.

Joe Schneider, co-owner of The Hub Pub and Joe Black’s, said the lack of patio options in East Grand Forks combined with customers having been cooped up during the winter, are some of the reasons he’s seen more customers at The Hub’s patio.

“I’m not getting a we-might-be-safer-outside vibe,” Schneider said.