As Minnesota continues to reopen in phases, restaurants in East Grand Forks are getting ready to welcome customers back, on the condition they eat outside.
Phase II of Minnesota’s “Stay Safe” plan began Monday, June 1, and allows up to 50 guests to have meals on a restaurant’s patio space -- should the business have that space -- and customers are supposed to make reservations beforehand. Business has suffered at East Grand Forks restaurants when North Dakota moved to allow limited dine-in seating on May 1, as customers migrated across the Red River. Though owners are now able to offer some table space, they’re at the mercy of the weather, as well as the rules.
“Whoever made that law has never worked in a restaurant with walk-up, outdoor seating,” said Marc Leslie, general manager at Sickies Garage in downtown East Grand Forks.
Rules for reopening state, in addition to the occupancy limit and requiring reservations, tables have to be spaced 6 feet apart, and service is limited to four people per table. That number goes up to six if all members are of the same family. Workers have to wear masks and are required to “strongly encourage” customers to do so as well.
Despite the rules, Sergio Aguirre, owner of Casa Mexico, on 14th Street Northeast, said he is glad to reopen, even on a limited basis, and is scrambling to add additional tables, chairs and umbrellas to his four-table patio space.
“I feel excited; we’re desperate to open,” Aguirre told the Herald. “Since North Dakota opened for dine-in, our business died 80%.”
Much the same was reported by Justin LaRoche, co-owner of The Spud Jr. on DeMers Avenue, where one table of patrons was dining at 11:30 a.m. on Monday. LaRoche said he has hit his capacity of 32 seats, and he doesn’t know when or if the city will allow him to add a Grand Forks-inspired parklet, to expand his seating. Bad weather, he said, could reset his business back to pick up and delivery.
“Hopefully, the days stay nice and people are able to sit out there,” said LaRoche, adding he is praying the “Stay Safe” regulations loosen quickly. No date has been released for Phase III of Minnesota’s reopening plan, which will let some customers dine inside restaurants.
Phase II also applies to personal care services, such as hair and nail salons, and those businesses have similar restrictions. They can open to 25% occupancy and clients can be seen by appointment only. Both staff and customers must wear masks inside the premises, and, when the client is not able to do so, getting a shave at a barbershop, for example, the barber is required to add a face shield as well.
While Minnesota moves into Phase II of its plan, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, on May 29, reduced the risk level of the color-coded “Smart Restart” health guidelines. The move takes the state from the yellow, or moderate health risk level, to the green low-risk level, meaning health officials are seeing a downward trajectory of documented cases of the COVID-19.
Moving into the green means dine-in capacity at restaurants and bars jumps to 75% from 50%, and weddings and banquets can accommodate up to 500 guests. Fitness centers can offer group classes with a high “inhalation/exhalation exchange,” such as aerobics classes, provided attendees are able to maintain social distance.