Al’s Breakfast, the Dinkytown diner, served its last breakfast Monday morning, even after a weekend in which customers seemed unfazed by fears of COVID-19.
“A fair number of people came in, but I started feeling like it wasn’t responsible for us in our close quarters to stay open,” said Alison Kirwin, who owns the counter-only diner.
Restricting access to restaurants is “probably a good idea right now,” Kirwin said. “I think we’ve seen over the course of the weekend that when left to their own devices, people can sometimes choose not to make the right decision.”
The last meal came hours before Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota restaurants and bars to close or to limit access to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. The executive order halts on-premises consumption through March 27.
“We need to stop congregating,” Walz said. “We’re going to close the bars, we’re going to close the restaurants, we’re going to close the places where we gather.”
Earlier Monday, Mayor Jacob Frey ordered Minneapolis restaurants and bars to close by Tuesday at noon. Restaurants were urged to transition to takeout, delivery and drive-through orders.
Both moves radically alter residents’ social lives while putting severe financial strain on food business owners and workers.
“This is by far one of the most unnerving situations our industry has ever had to go through — being told you can’t open up,” said Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.
“The bars and restaurants still have to pay heat, they still have to pay their vendors, they still have to pay their insurance. And so my concern is that there needs to be some serious concessions made for small-business owners on some economic relief from the state.”
Statewide dine-in restrictions start at 5 p.m. Tuesday. “But we strongly encourage folks to start paying attention to this guidance right now and avoid gathering in bars and restaurants as soon as they can, said Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Local restaurateurs joined Walz for the announcement.
Andrew Zimmern, the television host and proprietor of Lucky Cricket in St. Louis Park, choked up as he spoke.
“We all got into this business because of the magic we know happens when people share food together at our tables,” he said. “Nobody wants to close, but we know that we must.”
Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of the Blue Plate Restaurant Co., operators of the Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill and a half-dozen other Twin Cities restaurants, said, “This is one of those times when we could do more by doing less. It’s really hard for someone like me in hospitality to say ‘Stay home.’ But this is a time to cook meals at home and to be with your family.”
John Puckett, co-owner of Punch Pizza, said he had to tell 400 employees they would be temporarily out of work.
Dept. of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said hundreds of thousands of workers could apply for unemployment insurance.
Anticipating state- and citywide closures, many restaurants had already taken steps to shut down.
“I saw it coming,” said Gavin Kaysen, chef and owner of Spoon and Stable, Bellecour and Demi, which ended service Sunday night.
Kaysen followed the news of other states, including Ohio, that ordered their restaurants closed in previous days. He prepared over the weekend, thinking Minnesota would follow suit.
Facing uncertainty for the future of his businesses and his workers, Kaysen said the decision to close tormented him.
“The last 72 hours have been just pure adrenaline,” he said. “There have been many times where I feel very strong and then I just break down.”
Anthony Polski, owner of Market Bar-B-Que, which dates to 1946, found some relief in the announcement.
“To some degree, it’s good that a decision was finally made. We can say, ‘That’s what it is: It’s the decision,’ ” he said. “We’re in uncharted waters. None of us know if it would be better to close entirely or do delivery/takeout.”
Polski is wrestling with that decision. He wants to stay open in some capacity. “For the last 74 years, our family business has provided a service to our community, and we’ll continue to offer that service,” he said.
Many restaurants have already switched to delivery-only or are handing off orders at the curb. Kaysen plans to reopen Spoon & Stable and Bellecour on Wednesday for to-go orders, at least until his food stock runs out. But he’s not sure there will be much of an appetite for takeout, when many people stocked up on groceries over the weekend.
More pressing concerns are his staff’s livelihoods, his restaurants’ rent, and a sales and use tax due March 20. He hopes the governor and mayor take steps to ease that burden, and he appealed to them for help in an Instagram video.
Still, he said, closing is the right move.
“At the end of the day, we have to take seriously what’s happening,” Kaysen said. “The best analogy that I can give is in the movie ‘Titanic.’ The musicians were playing when the ship went down. We are the musicians. The music has to stop.”
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed to this report.
Sharyn Jackson • @SharynJackson