Cloquet officials, Pedro's work together to reopen
Pedro’s Grill & Cantina was unable to reopen June 1 due to a lack of outdoor seating, but owner Erika Aranda worked with Cloquet officials to set up an outdoor patio on Cloquet Avenue so she could reopen.
When Cloquet bars and restaurants reopened to diners June 1 after being limited to curbside or delivery service for more than two months, one local spot was noticeably absent.
Like restaurant owners across Minnesota, Erika Aranda, owner of Pedro’s Grill & Cantina in Cloquet, closed the restaurant to dine-in service mid-March as part of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Aranda kept Pedro’s open for phone and online ordering. She also started doing some updates to the restaurant. A new hardwood bar was built, a brick facade was built behind the bar and new cabinets were installed.
However, when Walz announced restaurants could begin reopening, customers were limited to outdoor dining only. Many Cloquet establishments — like The Jack and Carmen’s — worked to expand their existing outdoor space to allow more customers in at one time. Pedro’s, Cloquet’s only Mexican restaurant, was unable to reopen because there is no patio seating and it has no parking lot to set up outdoor tables.
“When the governor’s order came out where you could do outdoor dining I was like, ‘Well, I feel left out,’” Aranda said.
Aranda contacted Cloquet officials to see what could be done about creating an outdoor space on the sidewalk on Cloquet Avenue. In the city, she found a willing partner to find a solution and get customers back to Pedro’s.
Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson wanted to work with restaurants because the governor’s order asked communities and municipalities to find “creative solutions” for them to open safely. While providing enough space for social distancing is a large part of the safety equation, there are other considerations as well — especially for Pedro’s which is on one of the busiest streets in town.
“Our goal has really been twofold,” Peterson said. “One is to find a way for each of these locations to open up and start their businesses back up and safely get people back out into the community. Then the second part is really ensuring that safety is still being provided with separation of patrons and vehicles.”
Aranda developed a plan to build a fence around Pedro's storefront that would allow up to 40 diners to eat and maintain a safe distance from others. She submitted it to the city to make sure it would work before she started spending money.
“When they said ‘yeah, go for it,’ I was like let’s go,” Aranda said.
Fortunately for Aranda, her fiance Troy Persaud owns his own construction company. In a day and a half, Persaud built a fence that still provides space for pedestrians on the Cloquet Avenue sidewalk. On Thursday, June 4, Pedro's opened its doors for customers for the first time since March 17.
Seating was by reservation only, but Aranda said it’s been booked solid since opening. With Walz relaxing restrictions even further to allow limited indoor seating, all of Pedro’s staff is back to work. While kitchen staff have been working throughout the shutdown, Aranda said she had to cut some waitstaff hours.
“The patio is going to help a lot,” Aranda said. “That way we can spread people out. In fact, we are pretty lucky to have three sections in the restaurant, so the people aren’t all in the same room.”
Catherine Loeb walked in for lunch with her daughter Tuesday, June 9, and was almost as happy to sit down for a meal as Aranda was to welcome her back to the restaurant.
“It’s great to be back — it’s like putting on an old pair of jeans,” Loeb said. “If Pedro’s is open, all is good in town.”
City open to working with other restaurants
In addition to Pedro’s, Cloquet has also worked with Carmen’s, The Jack, Cloquet Bar & Lounge and the Cloquet Moose Lodge to expand their outdoor seating areas since restaurants began reopening.
Peterson said the city is more than willing to work with local restaurants to get them open or expand their outdoor seating.
“We want these places to open up just as much as anybody else,” he said. “Community members are looking to get out and safely be able to mingle with their friends and families. We want to be a part of finding a solution for every bar or restaurant.”