This story will be updated with additional reports of temporary closures.
Several Minneapolis restaurants are temporarily closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19.
The restaurants announced on their websites and social media accounts that they are on hiatus from takeout and delivery while employees quarantine and managers make plans to prevent future coronavirus infections. They are Revival (Minneapolis), Pizzeria Lola, Brasa (Minneapolis), Rustica Bakery and the three Broders’ restaurants (Pasta Bar, Cucina Italiana and Terzo).
These high-profile restaurants are among the first in the Twin Cities to suspend operations due to an infection and to explain publicly the reason for closing. Last month, another restaurant — Sawatdee in St. Paul — announced it would close for three days to undergo “electrostatic disinfection” after an employee tested positive, and posted photos of the cleaning process upon reopening.
There is no requirement that restaurants share such information with the public, nor that they close down, said a Minnesota Department of Health spokesman.
“Generally, blanket notifications are not really helpful, since COVID-19 is circulating in the community,” said MDH communications officer Doug Schultz, noting that just because a restaurant worker tests positive, patrons are not at a greater risk than any other time they go out into the community. Additionally, “since the exposures from takeout only are so short, they would not meet the criteria to be considered contacts.”
To date, Minneapolis contact tracers have not connected any COVID-19 cases to restaurant takeout, and the chance of a diner getting infected from a restaurant worker is “very small,” said Luisa Pessoa-Brandão, manager for Epidemiology, Research and Evaluation for the city of Minneapolis.
The state is keeping track of restaurant cases, “and that information becomes part of the myriad of factors that will be used to help us and the governor gauge whether and how to ‘turn the dial,’ ” Schultz said.
Revival’s Minneapolis location was one of the first to announce that the virus had circulated among staff. Five employees have tested positive since May 23, said co-owner Nick Rancone.
The restaurant initially suspended lunch service, then ceased all takeout May 26.
An Instagram post first announcing the closure said the reason was to prepare the patio and do repairs. Rancone says that was to prevent panic and protect employees’ privacy. But social media users criticized the restaurant owners for their opaque message.
The next day, Rancone and co-owner Thomas Boemer went live on Instagram for an hour to explain that COVID-19 was behind the closure.
“For other restaurateurs and business owners out there ... COVID is coming. It is beating down our doors,” Boemer said in the video.
Despite the backlash, Rancone said his team wanted to share its experience so other businesses — which are just beginning to welcome customers back for patio dining — have a template to follow if and when their employees get sick. (None of the closed restaurants had yet opened their patios.)
“It’s terrifying,” Rancone said about going public. “You don’t want to make your clientele feel like you just endangered them. At the same time, this is a serious deal.”
The complete timeline, beginning when management was first made aware an employee felt “off,” is posted on the restaurant’s website. Revival is slated to restart takeout Friday.
On June 1, all three Broders’ establishments announced they would close for two weeks so staffers can quarantine after an employee tested positive May 31. The restaurants had been closed since May 29 due to the unrest in Minneapolis. They are scheduled to reopen for takeout during the week of June 15.
Employees routinely move among the three restaurants, something that may change in the future to contain the potential spread of the virus, said co-owner Charlie Broder.
“I think it is a reminder to everybody, there is a pandemic,” he said. “We need to employ people and we need to feed people, and we need to get back to that in the safest way possible.”
Broders’ was prepared to begin a staff training Tuesday on pandemic preparedness. That is now on hold, and the company is revising its operating plan.
“This has really taken us a step back,” Broder said. “How do we make sure this is the safest for our employees and the general public as well? It’s still a conversation and a debate.”
Pizzeria Lola made the announcement June 3 on its website and social media that one team member tested positive. The restaurant will be closed until June 17. “Though we have been given the green light to reopen from MDH, we want to take this moment to press pause and allow our teams to regroup, reset, and take care of their well-being during this challenging time in our city,” the statement said. Brasa Northeast and Rustica Bakery made similar announcements.
Restaurant operators said they are following guidelines from the state Health Department regarding quarantine and sanitation. They are also getting advice from local licensing agencies — in these cases, inspectors from the city of Minneapolis, who suggest a 24-hour closure to clean and to allow respiratory droplets to settle if the employee was on-site while infectious. Other tips: opening windows, wearing a gown and gloves while cleaning, using a bleach-and-water solution.
But some restaurant operators have bigger questions about how to proceed after an outbreak. Should they close completely if an employee shows symptoms? Does the public have a right to know if a restaurant has a COVID-19 case? Must staffers who are quarantined get paid? And how can restaurants survive periodic two-week closures if needed? There is no clear answer, they said.
“We’re on the front edge,” Rancone said. “Nobody has experienced this to know what to do or how to navigate it.”
Both Rancone and Broder are paying employees during their closures. For Broder, a Paycheck Protection Program loan is covering that cost this time, “but we can’t do this again, probably,” he said.
He is hoping the state will come out with a framework to help businesses financially, should they encounter the same problem.
Rancone, too, said Revival is taking a hit by closing for almost two weeks. He suspects other restaurants that can’t sustain that long a closure might not make the same decisions he did.
“That’s on them,” he said. “I guarantee we won’t be the last case.”