They came for a beer. They came to celebrate an anniversary. They came seeking momentary reprieve from a pandemic.
Customers trickled in to Minnesota restaurants and breweries Monday, the first day patio dining was allowed to open under orders from the state.
“For some reason, this was my milestone for feeling more normal — to go out and have lunch again,” said Sean Gilbertson of Edina, who was having a venison and Kobe beef Juicy Lucy and fries on the dock at 6Smith in Wayzata.
The restaurant was his second choice; his first made a last-minute call not to open after days of violence and looting swept Minneapolis in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
Did having a meal outside his home for the first time in months help Gilbertson feel “normal”?
“No,” he said. “I don’t know what would make things more normal.”
The state ordered dining rooms to close beginning March 17 to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota. Later, they were given a June 1 reopening date — with the caveat that all dining must take place outdoors, with no more than 50 guests at a time, on a reservation-only basis.
Many restaurants chose not to reopen yet, whether due to the ongoing pandemic, a lack of outdoor seating or the economic hardship of opening to serve only a fraction of their usual capacity.
Then, with a week of unrest across the metro that saw several Twin Cities restaurants vandalized or damaged, more restaurants decided to put off their scheduled patio openings.
But after nearly three months without a seated customer, others were ready to welcome guests back to their patios and rooftops on a sunny day with temperatures in the high 80s.
It wasn’t business as usual.
At Pub 42 in New Hope, there was one significant barrier for entry to the deck overlooking the parking lot and N. 42nd Avenue. General manager Rob Gossard stood at the hosts’ stand, pointing a white thermometer at guests’ foreheads for a touchless temperature reading. Anyone over 99.5 degrees would be sent away.
“We’re trying to keep fever out of the restaurant,” he said.
At 6Smith, a timer went off every 15 minutes to let staffers — in matching gray masks — know it was time to wash their hands.
A bagpiper was on hand to welcome guests to Utepils Brewing’s tucked-away beer garden along Bassett Creek in north Minneapolis. When the first song ended, a man seated on an Adirondack chair with a beer in hand yelled out, “Are you playing that thing with a mask on?”
The bagpiper’s second number was taps, to honor Floyd.
The brewery had a total of 56 bookings for the day, a slow start, said owner Dan Justesen.
Still, he was “pretty excited” as he watched over about a dozen customers at picnic tables. “We live to do this,” he said.
Jacob Bell and Sara Marie Sorenson are regulars at Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake in Duluth and were with co-owner Josh Stotts until the restaurant’s last call before the stay-at-home order took hold in March.
“There’s definitely been a piece of our lives that’s been missing the last two months,” Bell said.
Stotts said his patio can usually seat 119 customers, but he’s spread out tables to make room for social distancing. Almost all 50 seats available were filled Monday afternoon.
“We’re taking things one day at a time,” he said.
Tavern on the Hill in Duluth filled all its reservation slots for Monday.
“Our phone’s been ringing off the hook,” said co-owner Julie Thoreson. “I wish we had more room. … Fifty seats fill pretty darn quick.”
More restaurants and bars will be rolling out their patios in the week ahead.
After its April debut was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Grocer’s Table is opening in downtown Wayzata on Wednesday on a newly expanded patio that takes advantage of sidewalk footage.
Over the past two months, owner Lindsay Pohlad has made alterations to her original cafe-wine bar-market business plan by emphasizing the market aspect of her enterprise. Banquettes have been replaced with coolers stocked with all kinds of pantry staples, including locally sourced eggs, butter, yogurt and cheese.
Pohlad added that the Grocer’s Table will follow now-standard protocols: a separate entrance and exit, disposable menus, cashless transactions and masked and gloved staffers.
Although opening a restaurant during a global pandemic is “surreal,” Pohlad is accentuating the positive. “I feel that we’ve been stressed and challenged in every way possible before we even opened, so that’s a silver lining,” she said.
Other restaurant and bar operators made the last-minute call not to open as planned. Finnegans Brewery was prepared to open its taproom Monday, until a Sunday night decision to postpone. “In light of what is happening in our city, now is not the right time to reopen,” said an announcement on social media.
Three of Craft & Crew Hospitality’s four restaurants opened their patios — but their Howe Daily Kitchen & Bar in south Minneapolis is delaying.
The online reservation system Open Table was still taking bookings midmorning Monday for the News Room on Nicollet Mall. General manager Brad Schwichtenberg had to call customers to let them know those reservations were canceled.
The restaurant, like others on the mall, is still boarded up and it will take almost 48 hours to take the boards down and prepare the restaurant for customers, Schwichtenberg said. They’re hoping to open by Thursday.
Tables were set up at 6 a.m. on the patio outside French Meadow Bakery & Cafe on S. Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis for the long-awaited opening of its patio.
But French Meadow founder Lynn Gordon changed course minutes before the first seating, suspending service to those tables. (People can sit there with their takeout.) The cafe’s hand-carved wooden front doors were damaged over the weekend in a break-in.
In St. Paul, Afro Deli opened its patio on the pedestrian-only West 7th Place. Even with social distancing restrictions, it has enough room to seat 30 to 40 people.
Opening Monday was important to owner Abdirahman Kahin, despite the destruction of businesses from riots and arson over the last week.
“We want to be a solution for the unrest,” Kahin said. “We are sympathizing with George Floyd and his family and we also support people who are demanding justice. We want to make sure life goes on, despite the atmosphere.”
Over the weekend, Afro Deli prepared 1,200 meals to distribute to citizens cleaning up Lake Street, and partnered with Meals on Wheels and Frontline Foods throughout the pandemic to get meals to seniors and children.
Opening the patio gives back to the community in another way, Kahin said.
“Some people feel better when they see businesses that are open,” he said. “We want to show hope.”
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed to this report.