Minnesota restaurant owners are glad to welcome customers back for dine-in service.

Restaurants and bars were able to get customers back on premises on Monday, Jan. 11, when Gov. Tim Walz relaxed COVID mitigation restrictions against those businesses that limited them to delivery, carryout or serving customers outside. While some are saying they are busy, others are reporting a slower start.

“Three solid days, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Darin Robson, owner of The Hive Bar and Grill in Thief River Falls. “It started off a little slow on Monday, but it definitely picked up, and we've been really busy.”

Robson said he was able to keep most of his employees during the nearly two month shut-down period, but he had to reduce their working hours to accommodate for the business slowdown. Some employees who work two jobs voluntarily agreed to stop working so their hours could go to other employees, for whom The Hive is their only job, he said.

For Robson, one of the worst things about the shutdown was not being able to serve the many oil pipeline workers that came to Thief River Falls to work on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project. The $2.6 billion project calls for thousands of workers to install the new line.

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The combination of those workers, the relaxed restrictions and $600 stimulus checks, that recently rolled out in the second round of federal coronavirus aid, means people are coming out to eat.

“I'm really hoping it keeps up indefinitely,” Robson said.

Patrick Boppre, who co-owns the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks, said it’s great to hear the commotion of customers back in the restaurant. Business was down about 80% during the shutdown, he said. Due to restrictions on dine in, including opening at 50% capacity up to 150 customers, he knows he won’t hit 100% of pre-pandemic sales, but he is glad for the business.

“It feels good to be put back to work,” Boppre said.

Despite fears that new habits had been formed during the closing of restaurants and bars in Minnesota, customers, on Friday Jan. 15, did show up for camaraderie and food at the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks.

Not all businesses reported a stellar start to the week, however. A staff member at Casa Mexico in East Grand Forks said business started slow, but that she expects it to improve.

“It’s OK; it’s just starting,'' she said.

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill, which had its liquor license suspended on Dec. 13, reopened on Tuesday, Jan. 12, according to its social media page. Its license was suspended for 60 days after it flouted the state’s shutdown order, then again refused to comply with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s subsequent temporary restraining order. On Dec. 11, Ellison sued the Boardwalk for allegedly violating the ban on in-person dining.

But Twin-Cities attorney Marshall Tanick, who is representing the Boardwalk, told the Herald the restaurant can reopen and serve alcohol, because he is challenging the restaurant's license suspension.

“What happens is the state will serve notice and say your license is suspended for 60 days,” Tanick said. “If you challenge or contest this before a judge, then they don't impose that until the judge rules on it.”

A Feb. 3 hearing before the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings has been scheduled, regarding the suspension.

Joe’s Diner, another east-side restaurant, also has reopened to dine-in service, according to the diner’s social media page. The business had its food and beverage license suspended by the Minnesota Department of Health on Dec. 26. MDH claims the restaurant violated COVID-19 mitigation measures by allowing customers to eat in the restaurant and not posting signs reminding customers to wear masks.

While it is not clear if Joe Bushaw, who owns the diner, has formally requested a hearing about the suspension, Erin McHenry, a spokesperson for the MDH, said that those who do so can remain open provided they follow all current coronavirus business restrictions.

Calls and a message sent to Bushaw went unreturned, before this report’s publication.