New restrictions on Minnesota restaurants and bars were not felt equally Tuesday, after Gov. Tim Walz announced a 10 p.m. curfew on in-person eating and drinking starting Friday, as well as a ban on counter service — with the exception of counter-only establishments. Bars and restaurants may continue takeout and delivery service after 10 p.m.
Some bar and restaurant owners expected the news to be worse. Others were caught off guard by the latest adjustments they must make to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in a year that has already seen a shutdown of indoor dining followed by capacity limits.
“I just suggested three of my bartenders take a leave and be on unemployment,” said Justin Sutherland, whose restaurant Handsome Hog in St. Paul features a 60-seat bar that must now stay vacant.
Dozens of restaurants and bars have closed permanently this year, with scores of employees furloughed or laid off. Many operators were already bracing for the winter, when patios can’t make up for indoor dining. For some of them, the new rules foreshadow more bad news to come.
“I will say we’re terrified,” said Rob Germinaro, general manager at Alary’s Bar in St. Paul. “It’s not just for me. It’s for my staff and for the industry as a whole. You’re going to see small single-ownership operations struggle and close forever.”
Spoon and Stable owner Gavin Kaysen said that while he respects this and other restrictions, restaurants require financial relief to survive. Counter service will be suspended at the North Loop restaurant starting Friday.
“We need the federal government to pass the Restaurants Act — without it, many places will not be able to hold on and stay open. It is just the reality,” Kaysen said.
Industry groups raised flags about the new restrictions.
Hospitality Minnesota, a lobbying group, said half of the state’s hospitality businesses could permanently close in the coming months, even though only a “small fraction of cases” are coming from restaurants and bars.
“While we appreciate that the governor is not shutting down restaurants, bars and events as some other states are doing, we are concerned about the economic and jobs impact on these businesses,” Hospitality Minnesota President Liz Rammer said in a statement.
Robb Jones, co-owner of Meteor Bar in north Minneapolis, struggled Tuesday to process the news about the curfew. The bar is an industry favorite that draws staffers from restaurants stopping in after their shifts. More than a third of its business comes after 10 p.m.
“I think what we’re upset about is mostly the fact that we were doing everything the right way,” Jones said. “We’ve been doing this for months now and none of us has gotten sick.”
Palmer’s Bar owner Tony Zaccardi had a different perspective.
He hadn’t been seating customers on bar stools since July, when Minneapolis banned counter service at bars. And he had already rolled back business hours over the summer. Now, other bars — in St. Paul and across the state — will have to do the same.
“I’m happy, I’m proud of the governor and I’m glad he’s doing this to level out the playing field,” Zaccardi said.
Anticipating new restrictions, Lindsay Pohlad closed her Wayzata restaurant the Grocer’s Table on Sunday to reassess the layout and come up with a plan, should indoor dining be halted completely.
When it reopens Wednesday, indoor seating will be down to less than 25% capacity. So when Pohlad learned of the 10 p.m. curfew, she was initially relieved. Her restaurant closes at 8 p.m. during the week and 9 p.m. on weekends.
But she isn’t relaxing just yet. With cases on the rise, Pohlad expects there to be more restrictions in the months ahead.
The curfew “is probably the first step of a couple changes that are going to happen,” she said. “I think we’re all just hanging in there to get through this winter and holding on to the idea of a bright spring.”