Someday this will end.
Someday we'll be together again.
Until then, Debra Pedro is waiting for your takeout order. And she has pie.
It's a long wait, some days.
"Monday, I got four to-go orders in 11 hours. Four," said Pedro, who's owned a family restaurant in her Maplewood neighborhood for almost two decades. "Luckily, for eight of those hours I was here, so I didn't have to pay me."
Minnesotans are trying to support hometown businesses through the pandemic, ordering takeout and delivery from restaurants and shops when we can.
But most of us would drive by this place without realizing Pedro's restaurant — the Maplewood Perkins — is hurting too.
"Everyone says 'support your local, support your local,' " she said. "They don't know Perkins is local too."
There are no deep corporate pockets. Just a worried small-business owner, hoping somebody orders enough burgers and pies to cover payroll next week.
Pedro, 66, started at Perkins as a waitress on the graveyard shift in December 1980, hoping to earn a little extra money for Christmas. Over the years, she worked her way up to manager and by 2002, she'd saved enough money to buy the place.
The sign over the door doesn't say Deb's Place, but this is Deb's place.
Pedro knows everyone's name, everyone's story, everyone's favorite order and everyone's favorite table.
"Larry and the boys come in every Wednesday and we play poker," she said, pointing to three tables in the corner of the empty dining room. "It's a dollar to get in there. Just one hand of poker. Every Wednesday."
In the summer, Larry and the boys swing by the farmers market before the game to pick up a special order.
"They bring [zucchini] to Vicky, one of my servers: 'Will you make us zucchini bread?' And she does," Pedro said. "She makes a cake for every one of their birthdays. Either a cake or cupcakes, she brings it in."
This is the place the neighborhood comes after church — big groups from First Lutheran, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran know by now to call as soon as services end if they want tables together.
This is where Coach Moose sent the high school hockey team after practice with orders to be on their best behavior and eat whatever the servers put in front of them.
This is a place the regulars come so regularly, their families leave contact numbers to call if Mom or Dad don't show up for breakfast.
This little franchise restaurant is a family restaurant. This is where Pedro's son, Stephan Hesse, tied on an apron and started working in the kitchen at age 13.
"I could make most of the stuff on the menu still," said Hesse, chef and co-owner of Pajarito Mexican bistro in St. Paul.
Pajarito had been set to expand to a new location in Edina this spring. Before the shutdown shut everything down.
Right now, though, he's more worried about his mom.
"If she closes up and she made $100, that $100 goes to her staff," Hesse said. "How much money can you get to pay your staff, pay your taxes, off $3.99 bacon and eggs? It's not a $15 burger, it's a $6.99 burger."
His mom, meanwhile, is more worried about her staff and customers: the furloughed hosts and servers; the cooks whose hours have been cut back to a few hours a week; faithful customers now in lockdown at nearby nursing homes.
A restaurant like this needs its regular customers to break even. But its regulars are the ones who run the greatest risks every time they leave home.
"I understand the distancing and the closing," Pedro said. "Our clientele are afraid to leave the house at 70, 80 years old."
Some of them still order their meals to go. Others call just to see if the stay-at-home order has a loophole for a quick sit-down meal at Perkins. Which it does not.
The regulars miss their Perkins. Their Perkins misses them, too.
"This was their social life," Pedro said. "Every single day, one or two people would walk through the door, they'd say 'Wait a minute, wait a minute — I got to go say hello to Alf. I got to go say hi to Don.' Before we could even seat them."
The people who love Deb's place are hoping the rest of the community will help out until it's safe for the regulars to return. Maybe order a burger or pick up a meal for an elderly neighbor who can't make it in person.
The other day, two new customers stopped by after a frustrating trip to a grocery store that was sold out of eggs. Pedro ran back to the kitchen, gathered a dozen eggs that no one had ordered for breakfast, and bundled them up with the couple's takeout order.
"You need eggs?" she said. "I've got plenty of eggs and after next week I'm going to be throwing them out."
If you find yourself in need of Easter pie or an order of Easter eggs and bacon, Deb's place will be open until 3 p.m. this holiday.
It's the Perkins at 1829 N. St. Paul Road in Maplewood. If you call ahead, they'll make the pie fresh.
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