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Restaurants speak on patio reopening, excitement for indoor dining June 10

With the partial reopening of patio dining in the rearview mirror, and the partial reopening of indoor dining looming on Wednesday, June 10, lakes area restaurants offered their take on Walz’s executive order and how they’re surviving economic upheaval. Their opinions varied widely, from optimistic and thankful, to incensed and alarmed.

People dine on the patio Friday, June 5, at Bar Harbor Supper Club in Lake Shore. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

As the state shifts from the second phase into the third phase of its reopening process, the fate of restaurants — a key cog of the hospitality industry and many local economies — hangs in the balance.

In the state of Minnesota, this may be no more apparent than the Brainerd lakes area, where hospitality and recreational tourism are the lifeblood of local communities. The Dispatch spoke with three local restaurants to get their take on Gov. Tim Walz executive order to reopen patio dining on a limited dining on June 2, as well as how things will unfold with a partial reopening of indoor dining on June 10.

If you asked John Allen, owner of Bar Harbor Supper Club in Lake Shore, he’d say Walz’s decision to reopen patios on a limited basis was a nonsensical decision that severely cut into local proprietors’ ability to keep themselves afloat.

At Bar Harbor, Allen said he’s been forced open about a third of his available patio space to meet guidelines. That, coupled with closed indoor dining, has Allen estimating that around 20%-25% of a restaurant’s typical yearly income — accrued during the peak four-month stretch of the year — is now irrevocably lost. Many of his employees, he said, have now moved on to greener pastures in other communities.

“Nobody is suggesting that social distancing isn't a good idea. We’re suggesting that having an arbitrary and capricious one size fits all rule for area establishments — regardless of how they're prepared to handle the people — doesn’t make any sense,” Allen said. “This is killing the Brainerd lakes area. Businesses are going to fail in record numbers, the hospitality industry is going to fail in record numbers, because not only can you not generate any revenue, but you have the ongoing expenses of the operations.”


From another perspective, Rylie Fussy, manager of the 612 Station in downtown Brainerd — which doesn't have any patio space — said the eatery has seen a significant drop in its take-out orders while customers have turned to restaurants with outdoor seating.

“We’re still seeing of support from our regulars, but who are still doing takeout, and a lot of deliveries to local businesses, but we've definitely noticed we don't have a patio and it kind of correlates with how our sales have been this week,” said Fussy, who expressed optimism about the partial reopening of indoor dining — which she described as the bread and butter of her family business — this Wednesday at 50% capacity.

At the same time, Pedro Unzueta, owner of El Tequila Mexican Restaurant, said his business has been able to handle downturns well during COVID-19 restrictions because of loyal customers throughout the lakes area who engage with the restaurant in a combination of take-out deliveries and patio dining.

Originally, El Tequila did not have a patio in which to accommodate its patrons, Unzueta noted, but employees were able to create a makeshift, blocked-off terrace in the parking lot which has helped to mitigate the downturn in customer traffic. His son, Damian Unzueta, estimates El Tequila is seeing about 50% of its usual revenue and total customer traffic.

“I am very glad with our community here. I get a lot of take-out orders, I get a lot of support,” Pedro Unzueta said. “I’m good. I’m very good, actually, because I have a lot of support. … I would like to be here (in the Brainerd lakes area) forever. I’m very happy here. I”m thankful for the support.”

Phase 3

The key stipulations of Walz’ third phase order are listed below.

  • Up to 25 people can now gather outdoors, with a limit of 10 people indoors remaining the guidance in place for the time being.

  • Restaurants and bars can have indoor seating up to 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people indoors or outdoors. Masks are required for workers and strongly encouraged for customers. No walk-in appointments. Reservations are required.

  • Hair and nail salons, as well barbershops, can allow up to 50% capacity. Patrons and workers must wear masks. No walk-in appointments. Reservations to these businesses are required.

  • Places of worship are now allowed up to 50% capacity, with 250 attendees maximum.

  • The order designates that gyms and fitness centers are being allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. Masks are encouraged as often as possible, and group exercise classes are allowed if social distancing can be maintained.

  • Movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, museums, indoor entertainment venues can reopen on June 10 with 25% capacity, though not to exceed 250 persons in the vicinity.

  • Outdoor entertainment like movies and concerts in the park are allowed to resume with a maximum capacity of 250 people.

  • Pools can reopen at 50% capacity.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .

John Allen, owner of Bar Harbor Supper Club in Lake Shore, stands by the patio Friday, June 5, which has been opened for dining. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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