DULUTH – A gloomy Monday morning gave way to sunny skies in the afternoon, drawing dozens outside to the patio at Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake.
The weather on the first day of June mirrored the attitudes of many Minnesotans, at last free to get their hair cut or meet friends for a beer and a bite to eat. After more than two months of pandemic-propelled shut downs, activities once considered humdrum were celebrated as beacons of normalcy.
"There's definitely been a piece of our lives that's been missing the last two months," said Jacob Bell, before clinking his glass with his friend, Sara Marie Sorenson.
The pair (whose first order of business was to procure their favorite spinach artichoke dip and two Jameson shots) are regulars at Sir Benedict's. They were with owner Josh Stotts until the restaurant's last call before the shutdown started in March.
Gov. Tim Walz ordered dining rooms to close to spread the curb of COVID-19. Hair and nail salons received similar directives a few days later.
Monday marked the first phase of reopening for these industries, which comes with some caveats. Salons can operate at 25% capacity, and restaurants can only serve 50 customers at a time in an outdoor dining area.
Grandma's Saloon and Grill in Canal Park announced it was opening its patio and deck seven days a week. OMC Smokehouse strung lights from the new tents they put up to shelter picnic tables. Va Bene Caffe fielded calls for a dozen reservations before noon Monday.
"Our phone's been ringing off the hook," said Julie Thoreson, co-owner of Tavern on the Hill, which filled all its reservation slots for Monday in the afternoon.
"I wish we had more room," she added. "Fifty seats fill pretty darn quick."
The Tavern on the Hill was among a group of more than 30 restaurants asking local legislators last week to pressure Walz to amend his order.
"The temperature and Lake Superior wind in June make outdoor dining near impossible," said the letter signed by members of the Duluth Area Restaurant Association. "We need our indoor dining spaces open at a minimum capacity to survive."
Fay Kuettel, who's owned Language of Hair on London Road for 34 years, echoed businesses saying they could have safely reopened before June.
"You work for years to build a clientele, and now they're all trying to book appointments for the same two weeks," she said.
Stylists are now staggering their shifts from early in the morning until late at night to comply with the governor's guidelines. Despite the busyness, Kuettel's happy to be interacting with her staff and clients again.
"You don't realize how much you miss it until it's taken away," said Jeanne Kucera, who was cheerily catching up with her stylist, Jessi Wassgren. Both wore masks, unavoidable reminders of the ongoing health crisis.
Some businesses are still putting the final touches on plans to reopen. Canal Park Brewing Company will seat a limited number of customers outdoors starting Friday, and Bent Paddle Brewing Co. will be serving drafts on its patio June 9.
"This has been really hard on all of us financially," said Dave Hoops, who is planning to put up a tent in the parking lot behind Hoops Brewing. He's to aiming to hire back a handful of staff and open his outdoor version of the Canal Park taproom this weekend.
Hoops said he trusts the governor's decisions and thinks "it's better to be safe than sorry."
"This outdoor seating will be fun," he said. "And until the next step, it's all we can do."
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478