DULUTH – The city's largest brewery is hoping to double its patio seating by setting up shop in the street in front of its Lincoln Park taproom.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co. is asking Duluth's City Council to approve an expansion that would block off W. 19th Avenue between W. Michigan Street and Lower Michigan Street, roads already partly closed because of construction.
The addition would feature more seating, standing tables and a beer trailer, where customers could order their favorite drafts outside. If the council gives them the go-ahead Monday night, Bent Paddle will roll out its new setup as soon as possible, said Laura Mullen, the brewery's co-founder.
Taproom business makes up about a sixth of Bent Paddle's revenue, Mullen said. At the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown, the brewery's sales were down 50%, though Mullen said reopening has helped soften that blow.
"It's definitely still a huge hit," Mullen said. "We just take every day and do our best to adjust as we can."
Vikre Distillery in Canal Park is also asking the council to sign off on a license to serve customers in a fenced parklet on Lake Avenue. Last month, a number of other Duluth restaurants and breweries — including Hoops Brewing, Va Bene Caffe and Black Woods Grill & Bar — received permission to expand service to parking lots, front walks and grassy yards after Gov. Tim Walz started allowing outdoor dining in Minnesota on June 1.
Since then, the governor has also rolled back restrictions to allow indoor dining with limited restaurant capacities. Mullen said Bent Paddle has even been able to add a few employees to its summer payroll, in addition to hiring back all of its taproom staff members who were furloughed at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"We don't want to get super ahead of ourselves," she said, noting that the pandemic's effects on businesses may start to become more clear as unemployment payments and Paycheck Protection Program loans are stopped.
The brewery canceled plans to buy new equipment this year, though it will still go through with an expansion that will double production space once the tenant in a neighboring warehouse moves out.
"We've got daylight and warm weather for at least the next two months," Mullen said. "I think we created a really safe feel, and we're proud of that."