In late November, Gov. Tim Walz restricted restaurant and bar service to delivery and takeout. That seven-week hiatus ended Monday — with certain restrictions, including operating at 50% capacity.
We asked seven Twin Cities chefs and restaurateurs about current conditions in their dining rooms. Whether they've chosen to reopen or are continuing to evaluate their situation, consensus is that the loosened restrictions are a step in the right direction.
Better than nothing
"I think the consumer is starved for a little human interaction, and they're chomping at the bit to get out of the house. Our team has been really pushing for it, so this couldn't come fast enough. Fifty percent capacity is suboptimal, but at Benedict's our weekdays are quieter, so it's not really an issue. And it's breakfast, which means those tables turn quicker than at dinner, so from that standpoint, it's not so bad. Something is better than nothing is where I'm at."
Mike Rakun, chef/owner of Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park, Mill Valley Market in Minneapolis and Benedict's Morning Heroes in Wayzata and Rochester.
We feel safe
"Now that restrictions are lifted and we can go to 50 percent capacity, we are. We feel safe for both our customers and our employees in our COVID practices. It's time to get back to business. At Smack Shack, the patio is still open, for sure. It's warm, it's comfortable. It's funny, because looking back, our weekends aren't as big as they were a year ago, but we were beating a lot of our weekdays from last year just with those 52 seats on the patio. It's full, all day long. At Bay Street [Burger Dive] this morning [Monday] we had a line of nurses at the door at 8 a.m. They were getting off the third shift, waiting to get inside; Bay Street is famous for its early happy hour, from 8 to 10. By 8:15, the restaurant was full, and that was nice to see."
Josh Thoma, co-owner of the Lexington in St. Paul, Smack Shack in Minneapolis, Bay Street Burger Dive in St. Paul and Burger Dive in Roseville.
Not sure what it's going to take
"We're sticking with curbside only, and serving dinner — along with key provisions — Thursday through Sunday. I can't say for sure when we'll open back up inside, I don't know what it's going to take for me to feel safe about that. We'd already planned to cut back our hours as part of our strategy to get through winter; January and February are typically our slowest months. It's been such a hard year for everyone in our organization, and I decided to give some people some time in January to rest and rejuvenate, and for me to start to figure out what we're going to be in the future. I wasn't thinking along the lines of what the governor was going to do. I wish I had a crystal ball, although maybe I don't want to know. I'm constantly amazed at the customers who keep showing up. That's the thing that makes me think, 'OK, we can figure our way back to something.' "
Tracy Singleton, owner of the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis.
Turning a corner
"To be completely honest, curbside wasn't working for us. If the governor approves it, and we're in compliance, we're going to be open. Those of us who choose to dine with us? I'm humbled. And for those who are hesitant, I completely understand. We'll be doing a five-course tasting menu. I've always wanted a tasting-menu-only restaurant, and this makes sense, given the financial and staffing constraints, and in minimizing contact and having a cap on reservations. Packing food in boxes and sending it off was not very inspiring, and I want to do something that's more fun and exciting. Hopefully as a community and as a country we are turning a corner, and I want to have fun again in whatever capacity I can."
Erik Skaar, chef/owner of Vann Restaurant in Spring Park.
Our team is prepared
"Honestly, anything would be welcomed by our company, whether it's 25 percent or 50 percent [capacity]. It's challenging with just takeout and delivery. Our team is prepared; we've been planning for the last couple of weeks."
David Benowitz, chief operating officer of Craft & Crew, which operates five Twin Cities restaurants, including Stanley's Northeast Bar Room in Minneapolis and Pub 819 in Hopkins.
"We opened yesterday [Monday] and it was awesome. Of course it wasn't as busy as it was in the past, because we have people spaced out, and at 50 percent capacity. But it's awesome to have people in here again. People were excited, they wanted it, super-bad. Every day, people would ask, 'Can we eat in here?' And we'd have to say, 'No, that's not allowed right now.' And they would always say, 'The first day we can, we'll be back.' "
Vincent Trojan, general manager of Maverick's Real Roast Beef in Roseville.
Optimism in the air
"This has been a little bit of hope. The staff are excited to be back, they're excited to work, and serve and take care of people. And I think people are excited, I really do. Fifty percent capacity, it's doable. We'll see. Who knows? For us, takeout on any given day is 10 percent of the revenue from the prior year, and that's not sustainable. I feel like this whole past year has been one big science experiment: Let's try it, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and then we might as well try something else. I hope we can turn this corner. I think that with a vaccine on the horizon, there's some cautious optimism in the air."
Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of the Blue Plate Restaurant Co., which operates eight Twin Cities restaurants, including 3 Squares in Maple Grove and the Freehouse in Minneapolis.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib