While some Minnesota restaurant owners are pleased they will soon be allowed to let customers back in the doors, others are still concerned about the restrictions they continue to face.
Restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues will be allowed to let customers back on the premises after Gov. Tim Walz relaxed coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Those businesses will still face restrictions, but restaurants and bars can operate at 50% capacity beginning on Monday, Jan. 11, and they will need to stop dine-in service by 10 p.m.
“One: Does it open us up to some more business? Yeah. Two: Are we still being told what we can and can't do? Yeah,” said Justin LaRocque, owner of the Spud Jr. in East Grand Forks.
LaRocque was the architect of a sit-in style protest of those restrictions that was set for Saturday, Jan. 9. In light of the impending relaxed restrictions, that protest has been canceled. LaRocque announced the cancellation on his Facebook page shortly after 4 p.m., where he wrote that it is time to begin the “healing process of a very fractured political climate.” The protest cancellation was linked to political unrest in the country, the most recent iteration of which saw supporters of President Donald Trump storm U.S. Capital building, in an attempt to push Congress to reverse Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, LaRocque said the hospitality industry is capable of doing its part to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and he hopes the industry doesn’t see another shutdown.
“We hope the state of Minnesota continues to understand that we see through their partisan policy making and there is no need to find ourselves in a lopsided industry shutdown again," he said.
Through his social media page, he had asked people to set up ice houses on Third Street Northwest, which runs in front of his shop. People were asked to pay a $40 fee, which was to be split between the owners of the Boardwalk Bar and Grill and Joe’s Diner. Those restaurants reopened in violation of Executive Order 20-99 that shut them down to in-person service.
The Boardwalk is being sued by Attorney General Keith Ellison, after owner Jane Moss defied that order and remained open after being told to close to in-person service. The business then had its license suspended for 60 days and won’t be able to reopen on Monday. Joe’s Diner was served with a cease-and-desist order, but could still conduct business through takeout orders.
But other restaurant managers said they are glad to be able to reopen, and some may need to start hiring to serve dine-in customers.
“We are definitely excited and ready,” said Dan Strietbeck, a manager at Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews.
Patrick Boppre, co-owner of the Blue Moose, sounded much the same. He said the majority of the serving staff there will come back to work and are excited to do so. Boppre was thankful customers placed takeout orders during the shutdown period that began in mid-November.
“We're super excited to have everyone come back,” Boppre said. “We had great support from the community, and I think they realized that this side of the river was struggling a little bit more. We had a lot of local support, so that kept us afloat during that time.”
Gov. Tim Walz expressed cautious optimism about allowing hospitality businesses to reopen. Though cases have seen a recent spike, they are trending down from the November peak. On Tuesday, Jan. 6, the state reported more than 2,300 new cases and 67 deaths.
"I want to send my deepest thanks to all Minnesotans who have made the sacrifices,” Walz said. “A special thank you to all those folks involved in the hospitality and entertainment industry; they've taken the brunt of keeping us safe.”
Walz urged Minnesotans to continue to practice COVID-19 mitigation tactics, including wearing masks, keeping social distance and frequently washing hands.