As the coronavirus began gripping the nation last spring and local bars and restaurants were closed to dine-in service, owners were forced to recalibrate ways to serve their customers.
Gordy’s Hi-Hat, Cloquet’s summer institution, delayed its opening from March 19 until April 8 to get ready for the new reality and when they did open, they returned to the restaurant's roots — carhop service.
Gordy Lundquist’s first restaurant was an A&W shop that opened in 1951 in Duluth and featured servers taking orders and delivering food to customers’ vehicles.
Throughout the summer, lines of cars snaked through the parking lot waiting for their food at their favorite Cloquet burger joint.
Second generation owner Dan Lundquist said 40% of Gordy’s business is take-out, so the staff were well-prepared for the changes.
Over in Carlton, however, Magnolia Cafe had to make some changes to their building to continue serving customers. The cafe has neighboring businesses on either said that make a drive-thru impossible.
Yvette Maijala closed Magnolia for three days to revamp for online and walk-up ordering. Online ordering was easier because her payment system was already set up, but walk-up ordering took a little more time.
Magnolia is in an older building and the windows of the cafe wouldn’t stay open, Maijala said. She talked to Hagen Glass and Paint in Cloquet, but it would have been up to eight weeks to get a new window installed. To solve the problem, Hagen installed a sliding window to insert in the space and give Magnolia customers a way to get a cup of coffee or a sandwich without ordering online or walking into the store.
Over the summer, Pedro’s Grill & Cantina on Cloquet Avenue was faced with limited seating capacity. Owner Erika Aranda was able to scale up her online ordering and delivery side of the business, but after Gov. Tim Walz began allowing outdoor seating in May, Aranda said she felt “left out” because there was nowhere for outdoor seating at Pedro’s.
She contacted Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson and found a willing partner in trying to get customers back in her establishment.
Aranda had a fence built on the sidewalk of Cloquet Avenue that still left enough room for pedestrians. The new patio was a hit, with reservations keeping the space filled for much of the summer. What’s more, the new space allowed Aranda to bring back much of the staff that had been laid off during the initial shutdown.
Carmen’s Bar & Restaurant on Big Lake Road already had outdoor seating, but owners Ryan Lindstrom and Zach Zezulka expanded their capacity with a catering tent outside. Instead of covering their existing deck, they set it up in a grassy area on their property.
“The governor said ‘get creative’ so we got creative,” Lindstrom said at the time.
Unfortunately for Pedro’s and Carmen’s, outdoor seating wasn’t a solution for harsh Minnesota winters.
Following the second shutdown in late November, both Pedro’s and Carmen’s tried to leverage their new features. The space constraints on Cloquet Avenue wouldn’t allow Aranda to set up a tent, but she built an ice bar in December to allow people to order a drink while they waited for their food. Warm temperatures in early January caused the ice bar to collapse, however.
Lindstrom and Zezulka set up their tent over Carmen’s deck in January. Lindstrom said they were using about 10 tanks of propane every two days to keep the area warm, but it was still a struggle to get customers to use the area any time temperatures dipped below 20 degrees.
After the wind blew the tent down for a second time, the pair decided to take it down for the winter before it suffered serious damage.
“It’s just not worth setting it up a third time,” Lindstrom said. “We want to make sure we can use the tent in the spring and summer for catering and hopefully the grad season.”