When the pandemic shutdown began a year ago this month, David Fhima, owner of Fhima's restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, faced cutting 100 workers and letting $100,000 worth of perishables spoil.

"What do you need?" City Center General Manager Jim Durda asked Fhima.

Fhima told him that feed-the-hungry outfits such as Minnesota Central Kitchen and Frogtown Neighborhood Association were projecting unprecedented demand for prepared meals. Fhima thought he could keep a couple of dozen people working, making meals for $3 to $6 apiece, but he needed a break on rent.

Fhima didn't make payments on his restaurant space for several months. But he survived, cooking hundreds of meals daily for low-income families, elderly indigent and the unemployed. The rent forbearance helped Fhima "plug the hole."

Another restaurateur in the Minneapolis skyway, Abdirahman Kahin, closed his Afro Deli location in Baker Center last March, two months after opening to large crowds. He put his team to work at his larger St. Paul restaurant, cooking for Twin Cities Metro Meals on Wheels and partner charities to meet skyrocketing demand among elderly clients, the unemployed and the working poor.

"We didn't pay rent when we didn't pay rent," Fhima said. "And we had to close down dining twice last year. We stayed in business. Now, more customers are starting to come back. People are talking about events. I think we'll be 50% to 75% of where we were in 2019 in the fall."

Durda declined to discuss specific rent breaks.

City Center is made up of 33 South Sixth Street office tower and three-level retail mall. Earlier this month, the tower's anchor tenant, Target Corp., said it would move out as it expects it won't need as much space in the future. Even without cutting staff, Target forecasts that office workers will split their duties between office and home from now on.

Even with such a huge leasing challenge ahead of him, Durda said, "Downtown will be back. The pandemic is a big pothole. Some people will continue to work from home. But we have a lot going for us. We are among the top five downtowns in the country in everything, from sports to business to theater."

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144