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‘Everybody is going to have to help each other’

Local restaurants adapting to EO 20-04

Gov. Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-04 Monday evening, requiring the temporary closure of bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation.

Under the order, places of public accommodation are still authorized to utilize “delivery service, window service, walk-up service, drive-through service, or drive-up service, and to use precautions in doing so to mitigate the potential transmission of COVID-19, including social distancing” and “may permit up to five members of the public at one time in the place of public accommodation for the purpose of picking up their food or beverage orders, so long as those individuals are at least six feet apart from one another while on premises.”

While the order is meant to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is putting a strain on local restaurant owners.

“I think we’re jumping the gun,” said Tendermaid owner Sara White. “They want us to cut our business; they’re not offering any assistance, but they say we can get a loan at a lower interest rate.”

With dine-in no longer an option, places such as 1910 Fresh Mexican Kitchen and Mixto Fresh have opted to close their doors while the order remains in effect. White has opted to stay open and offer take out only.

“We want to be able to serve the public and give them their favorite things and keep us going too,” she said. “We’ve been here since 1938 and we hope to continue on.”

One major challenge is the uncertainty felt by restaurant employees.

“There has definitely been an impact as far as the unknown on our employees; keeping them from panicking and having them understand we’ll have to adjust and adapt,” said Piggy Blues BBQ owner Josh Diaz. “We’re having a little bit of trouble reassuring them we’re doing everything we can to look out for them. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to stay open and not leave them high and dry. We have a lot of loyal employees and in turn, we’re loyal to them.”

Another concern is the possibility of not getting product delivered to the restaurant.

“We have to get product, and things are getting bought up left and right,” White said. “If us businesses can’t get what we need, we’ll have to close up. We may not be able to get what we need to serve people.”

But with the challenge comes the opportunity to adapt. As a means to keep business steady while limiting exposure, Diaz has introduced curbside service and delivery as options for customers.

“We do have a pretty good following on Facebook and we’ve had a lot of people share (the delivery/curbside service announcement),” he said. We did not get a ton of delivery; most people wanted to pick up their food, which we brought out to the car. We did not allow cash; everything is done over the phone. Some people did not love that we’re not taking cash, but we’re trying to limit our exposure. Our regulars like to come see our people; they have a relationship with our staff.”

The change did not stop customers from ordering, prompting another adjustment.

“Our phone did ring off the hook for certain periods of time,” Diaz said of Tuesday evening’s service. “When a lot of people call at the same time, it’s hard to get through. We’re trying to set up online ordering as a solution to help while all of the people order at once.”

But despite the difficulty, there is a degree of understanding.

“I’m aware of the danger of this virus and want everybody to stay safe, including staff and delivery people,” White said. “You just hope people are loyal and support you and realize this is our living; this is all we have. You pray people will keep coming.”

“There are people in worse situations than we are; we’re at least able to make an income,” Diaz said, referring to other businesses, such as movie theaters and fitness gyms, who are also affected by the order. “They are going to feel it and I feel bad for them.”

“Everybody is going to have to help each other,” he added, “This is what we have to do when something like this happens. This is something we’ve never seen before and it’s crazy for all those involved.”