Restaurant owners have renewed optimism, but …

JOHN EDWARDS at The Caboose is glad some indoor dining restrictions have been lifted, but would like to be able to once again host events and banquets. Photo / Per Peterson

By Per Peterson

When COVID-19 hit Minnesota last winter, Betsy McDonald of Bonnie & Clyde’s was asked if she thought her restaurant would be shut down. Her response: “Oh, they can’t do that.”

Everyone knows what happened next.

“They did shut us down — the next day,” McDonald said. “I didn’t think that any of this was possible. It’s not right.”

The on-again-off-again saga surrounding bars and restaurants in Minnesota added another chapter last Wednesday, as bars and restaurants (as of Jan. 11) once again were able to invite guests inside to eat and drink. And while it might not be looked at as a happy ending just yet, it at least is a step in the right direction for bars and restaurants.

“I’m glad he finally saw the light, and this gives us a chance of staying alive and staying in business,” said Bitton’s Roadhouse owner Sissa Bitton. “I hope he doesn’t take it back again in a few weeks if the numbers rise up again from New Year’s Eve. That’s my fear — that this is just temporary.”

With COVID-19 spreading more slowly across the state than it was a couple of months ago Gov. Tim Walz announced that bars and restaurants on Jan. 11 could once again open up to indoor dining, with a maximum capacity of 50%, ending a pause that dated back to Nov. 20. It was then that Walz ordered bars and restaurants closed to indoor dining until Dec. 18 — an order that was ultimately extended until Jan. 11. At that point in November, only take-out and delivery service was allowed.

Bitton’s tempered optimism is a result of a tumultuous summer for bars and restaurants across the state. These establishment have had to close down, open up and deal with curfews for more than 10 months.

“When is the next one gonna sock us in the gut?” she wonders. “It’s exhausting. One week you’re getting ready to fold napkins and do silverware and dressings, then the next week you’ve gotta go to the store and buy more take-out containers. You just can’t win. We have incurred losses, both on the alcohol side and food.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.