For the second time this year, Minnesota restaurants and bars have closed their doors to in-person service as coronavirus cases in the state continue to surge.
Gov. Tim Walz issued a bevy of executive orders Wednesday, Nov. 18 forcing establishments to transition back to carry-out and delivery for at least four weeks.
The decision frustrated Erika Aranda, owner of Pedro’s Grill and Cantina in Cloquet. She said her staff members have been diligent about safety precautions and no one from her restaurant has tested positive for the virus since customers were allowed back into the restaurant in June.
“For the time they let us open, none of us got sick,” Aranda said. “We followed the rules ... we were strict. We were even fighting customers to wear their mask and all these things.”
- RELATED: Pandemic forces FDLTCC to bundle Thanksgiving feast
- RELATED: Support pours in for new owners of Esko pizza parlor
Ryan Lindstrom, co-owner of Carmen’s Bar and Restaurant on Big Lake Road in Cloquet, said the shutdowns and restrictions have limited how many people his restaurant could serve all year. With the renewed ban on dine-in service, Carmen’s is hamstrung even further and without the safety net of the initial shutdown.
In March and April, those out of work were receiving an extra $600 per week thanks to the federal stimulus package approved by Congress. The extra money helped keep people spending money in the spring and gave those who were laid off with extra funds to make ends meet.
There has been talk of a second relief package from the federal government, leaving Lindstrom and other employers in a difficult position.
“The other thing that’s not really fun is I get to be the bad guy and lay people off right before the holidays,” Lindstrom said.
What’s more, both Lindstrom and Aranda believe the shutdown will be extended further than Walz’s initial expiration date of Dec. 18.
“It’s going to be longer than four weeks,” Lindstrom said. “They’re not going to reopen us right before Christmas and New Year’s and say, ‘No, that’s it.’ I would expect it to be more like six to eight weeks total shutdown time, at least.”
Other places in Cloquet were anticipating Walz’s order and even suspended dine-in service prior to last week’s announcement. Natalie Swanson, owner of Bearaboo Coffee Escape in Cloquet, said the climbing number of cases in Carlton County prompted her to stop people from eating inside the cafe a week or so beforehand.
“Most of our clientele that come to sit and dine are elderly,” Swanson said. “We were hearing from people getting it all over the place, so we wanted to make sure we were taking precautions to protect them and our workers, because if our staff gets sick, then we go down.”
Many Bearaboo customers take their coffee and go, however, and the store already has an established drive-thru window — a luxury many sit-down restaurants like Carmen’s and Pedro’s don’t have.
Even worse, Aranda said, Wisconsin establishments remain open for business despite a similar surge in cases.
“I just feel like governors should all be on the same page,” Aranda said. “I've seen many people — our customers, people from Cloquet — they're crossing the bridge going to Superior, just living a normal life and restaurants are being blamed for the spread. It doesn't make sense.”
Pedro’s has been busy recently, Aranda said, and there are plans to experiment with weekend deliveries during this shutdown. She doesn’t want her restaurant to get tagged with a violation because too many people were inside waiting on food and it’s simply too cold for them to wait outside the restaurant.
Pedro’s was “crazy busy,” Friday, Nov. 20, Aranda said, as she prepared to close the dining room a second time, but the mood was a little melancholy.
“We had customers here tipping our employees like it was the last time seeing them,” she said. “Customers were crying — it was a sad day for my servers. People came here to say bye for the next four weeks or whatever. We’ve been here for so long that everyone comes here because they feel like they’re home.”