Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-99 continues to set a tone for restaurants and bars in the Park Rapids area.

Put in place on Nov. 19, the order tightened restrictions on the hospitality industry, limiting bars and restaurants to carry-out, curbside service and delivery.

It was the second such hit to eating and drinking businesses since the state started taking emergency measures against the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

‘We’ll hang in there’

“We’re doing takeout at this time,” said Julie Sauer, owner of Lobo's Bar & Grille at Lake Itasca. “There’s not a lot of takeout, out in the country, out here. A little bit.”

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She said business hasn’t exactly been crazy, but added, “We’ll hang in there.”

The ban on dine-in service has actually helped in a way, she said. “The hours for the employees have been shorter because the bar is just takeout. We’re not making a killing on it, that’s for sure.”

She said being able to stay open later would also help. Currently, Lobo’s closes for takeout at 8 p.m.

A year without income

Lance Pritchett, owner of the Great Northern Cafe in Park Rapids, said he’s thankful the property is paid for because “I’m just going to go a year without any income.”

“We do takeout, but I’d say it’s probably 5 percent of normal business,” he said.

Even when restaurants were allowed to serve dine-in customers at 50 percent capacity, he said business was slow. For a diner seating 80, he said, “That cut about $1,000 a day in the summer. In a small business, $1,000 is quite a bit.”

Pritchett says he thinks many small businesses with a mortgage won’t make it through this unless the government comes through with aid – and it isn’t just about lockdown orders.

“The problem is, even if they did open it up to full capacity, I think people are so scared, I don’t think business is going to be there anyway,” he said. “It’s going to be very small … because it’s winter and the COVID people aren’t going out.”

Main Street may not have been hit as hard, he said, because people can walk around between businesses and restaurants got a boost, last summer, from outdoor seating. “But it hit the Great Northern pretty hard. We were pretty slow.”

Happy to do our part

“We’re all extremely unsure of what will happen next with COVID,” said Katie Deschene, co-owner of Revel Brewing in downtown Park Rapids. “All of us have to do our part, so that we can get a grasp on it. I’ve heard local hospitals are full in our surrounding area. I definitely don’t want to be contributing to people getting sick and spreading it. So, I’m happy that we are doing our part.”

Deschene said the micro-brewery has been able to open a few days a week to sell off-sale growlers and howlers, “but (COVID-19) definitely impacts us, and a lot of other businesses are going through the same thing.”

She said the business hasn’t received any government aid related to COVID-19, but said she and husband-business partner Dylon Deschene plan to apply for a grant that Walz said will be coming out for local businesses impacted by the pandemic.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some sort of relief through that,” she said. “If we didn’t qualify for it, then the SBA (Small Business Administration) is offering small businesses very low-interest loans. It’s not fun to take a loan out on top of your other loans, but there’s definitely resources.”

Adding that she hopes the COVID vaccine is all it’s cracked up to be, she added, “We all have to stay safe and do our part.”

Cutting overhead

Butch De La Hunt, president and CEO of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, spotted a silver lining in the looming cloud.

“As the positive rate (of COVID-19 tests) started to peak here in the lakes area, a lot of the restaurants were seeing a reduction in patrons coming in anyway,” he said. “It was inevitable that … as it started to progress, that things were going to slow down for them, and then the executive order came which closed the doors.”

Acknowledging that the shutdown order brought “additional pain to the bottom line,” De La Hunt said, “maybe one of the positive aspects of it is, if it’s going to slow down because everybody is hunkering down and not coming in, by them being closed and doing curbside pickup, at least they can better package their staff and some of their overhead.”

He said the carry-out and curbside model gives restaurant owners more opportunity to plan employees’ work schedules based on how much business is coming in.

“The last time the governor issued an executive order on curbside pickup only,” he added, “our community stepped up very well and supported them. We’ve got to support them right now.”

Find opportunities to order carryout, he suggested, to ensure these businesses are there to serve us in the future.

De La Hunt said Walz was aware that Executive Order 20-99 was going to hurt the hospitality industry, “But he didn’t see any other options.”

He said discussions are underway to provide another aid package for businesses that had to close during the pandemic. “If a grant is out there, that can throw a lifeline to our hospitality industry and see them through the closure,” he said. “We’re working on some different things on a county level. … As soon as there are any relief packages, Mary Thompson from the Heartland Lakes Development Commission will be working hard on it.”

De La Hunt said the Chamber and other business organizations in the area will share information about any assistance that becomes available.