Twin Cities restaurants close en masse as uncertainty reigns

The last weekend was a brutal one for restaurants in the Twin Cities.

On Friday, Bonfire Restaurants, closed since March 16th by Gov. Walz’ executive order, announced that they would remain closed permanently. In a statement, they said:

As you know, the future of hospitality is incredibly uncertain and over the past month, we have tried our best to navigate this uncharted territory. We have explored multiple paths to emerge triumphant at the end of this pandemic, but there’s just no way for us to support the financial weight of our company and the building we call home. We were already walking a fine line before COVID-19 and given that no one knows how long the impacts of this pandemic will last, or what the new normal will be, we do not see a viable path forward.

On Saturday, Pazzaluna in downtown St. Paul announced that it would not be reopening. Richard Dobransky, president of Morrissey Hospitality which owns Pazzaluna, said in a statement:

Irrespective of when restrictions are lifted, we are not confident in the immediate return of customers who are worried about their health and family members

The same day, Vivo Kitchen in Apple Valley announced that it would be closing. In a statement, Executive Director Jeff Mould said:

This has been an emotional and difficult decision to arrive at. The future of hospitality is so uncertain. We have given our absolute best to innovate and adapt to the ever-changing pandemic world we live in. We have recalibrated our menu with a small and committed team and done all we can to keep our business moving forward with the hopes of re-opening. The reality is that the business margins of a 400-seat capacity restaurant are not maintainable currently or under limited capacity seating. With all the uncertainty, we do not see a viable path forward.

Wabasha Street Caves, also in St. Paul, announced that it too would be closing in November. The Pioneer Press reported:

“We have been closed since March 18, and with the fear of COVID-19, most of our tours and events for 2020 have canceled,” Donna Bremer wrote in a recent email to customers and vendors titled “Hardest letter I have ever written.”

“We are expecting the same will be true for this summer’s public ‘Historic Cave Tours’ and ‘Saint Paul Gangster Tours,’ so with much regret and lots of tears we are going to be closing,” she said.

Minnesota’s small businesses are struggling in the face of uncertainty

These aren’t the first. As a I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

This weekend Muddy Waters followed Bachelor FarmerIzzy’s Ice CreamEgg and I, and Ginger Hop and Honey in closing permanently since the SHO. 

Sadly, they are unlikely to be the last. The Star Tribune reports that:

The Twin Cities’ nationally recognized food scene contributes as much to the region’s reputation as its vaunted assets in the arts, education, corporate diversity and other livability measures.

Many of those working in this vital segment are saying that their industry is in big trouble and may never recover. Hospitality Minnesota — a trade group representing 2,000 restaurants, hotels, resorts, campgrounds and outfitters — expects more than 50% of those businesses to close by July, according to a survey of 300 of its members.

When Gov. Walz announced that his stay-at-home order (SHO) would end on May 18th, he said that he had directed members of his cabinet to have discussions with health experts and businesses, including bars, restaurants, barber shops and salons, for reopening on June 1st. But almost immediately, he went out of his way to say he wasn’t promising anything.

In this unprecedented time of economic mayhem, Minnesota’s small businesses need some certainty from state government. Sadly, once again, they aren’t getting it.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.