'Not exactly the easiest pill to swallow': Local bar owners speak on second round of closures
BEMIDJI -- When Gov. Tim Walz announced on Wednesday, Nov. 18, that bars and restaurants were to close their doors to in-person dining for four weeks starting Friday, Nov. 20, there was an unwanted feeling of déjà vu for the owners of local watering holes around town.
For Brigid’s Pub co-owner Travis Glass and Ruzy’s Bar and Grill owner Bryan Ruzek, Wednesday marked the second time in eight months that their businesses were told to temporarily halt indoor service and operate solely on takeout or delivery in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“The latest restrictions are pretty heavy news to follow so shortly after the restrictions set a week prior,” Glass said. “Obviously this will affect the pub greatly. We are fueled by our hospitality and the public. It makes everything a lot harder when we can’t be in public.”
Just a week before, Gov. Walz also ordered restaurants and bars to end in-person service at 10 p.m. While takeout and delivery were still allowed after that time, patrons were no longer allowed to sit at bars, and standing games such as darts and pool were limited.
But these latest restrictions come in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota. On Wednesday, the state reported 5,102 new COVID-19 cases and a record 67 deaths in one day from the illness. More than 3,100 Minnesotans have died from the disease and its complications since the pandemic began.
Health department figures also estimate that around 4,100 coronavirus cases have been linked to outbreaks at restaurants and bars since June 10, the first time indoor dining resumed since the governor’s initial executive order on March 17.
However, now that these new restrictions are set to last through Dec. 18, there is concern over how local restaurants and bars are expected to weather yet another blow to their annual revenue.
“It definitely hurts all bars because there is a small profit margin on food. Bars make money through people dining in and having drinks and beer,” Ruzek said. “No forced closure is good for any business.”
During the first round of restaurant and bar restrictions earlier this year, Ruzek made the choice to close Ruzy’s, as he believed “the cost of payroll would outweigh the amount of profit.”
But now, because winter is traditionally his business’s busy season, Ruzek has chosen to remain open amidst the restrictions and has partnered with food delivery service DoorDash to offer takeout and delivery options.
Glass has also chosen to keep Brigid’s Pub open, deciding to focus on takeout orders with nightly and weekend specials. He said the pub may also possibly implement a delivery service and try to use off sale allowances to drive food sales.
“The first (shutdown) we went into it blind with no idea of how or what to do. That being said, I’m very proud of the way we handled it,” Glass said. “We instantly implemented a contactless pick up system that I feel our customers really appreciated … and the community was so generous and willing to adapt to what we had to adapt to.
"Having more knowledge of how to operate a shutdown like the current one will be a little easier to transition into a routine. (But) a two-day notice into this shutdown is not exactly the easiest pill to swallow.”
Despite preparing alternative dining options, Ruzek said the revenue he expects to be lost from the new restrictions can’t be counteracted. He said he will move forward with a “see how it goes” mindset in terms of how his business fares, but he predicts the shutdown will extend beyond the four week period, as it did last time.
Currently, there are no new programs or funding allocated from the state to support businesses affected by the temporary closures.
However, in a statement on Wednesday, Dave Hengel, the executive director of Greater Bemidji, said, “When the pandemic first hit in spring, the greater Bemidji community came together… in unprecedented ways to support its small businesses. I am confident it will again.”
And like Hengel, Glass and Ruzek share similar appreciative sentiments for their Bemidji community.
“I guess we’re just all going to try and survive with takeout and delivery for now and see what the future brings. I’m sure most will survive this, like the last one,” Ruzek said. “There’s a pretty strong showing of support for all of us bars and restaurants during normal times. I know there are plenty of options here in town, (and) I’m sure the takeout aspect will have the same showing of support.”
“(We’re) just grateful for the outpouring of generosity and amazing support from our whole community through these times,” Glass said. “We truly appreciate it.”