WORTHINGTON — Beginning Wednesday, Minnesota's restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen for dine-in service at half capacity, per a gubernatorial executive order.
Local eateries are using a number of strategies to adjust to the new normal. Forbidden Barrel Brewing Co. owners Brent and Cheryl Droll were ecstatic to be able to welcome the community back inside their Third Avenue brew pub.
The Drolls offered drive-up and carryout service of food and beer during the mandatory shutdown, but they missed hosting their clientele.
"It's nice to be able to open back up again," Brent said.
"Our customers have been amazing," Cheryl added. "We've had really, really good support."
In accordance with Gov. TIm Walz's orders, Forbidden Barrel has taken a number of safety precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It's allowed to have half-capacity — 62 seats — inside and up to 250 outside (there is space for 40 to 50 persons), and groups have to be seated at least six feet apart from each other. Staff members wear masks. Extra cleaning and sanitizing is planned into the daily routine.
The downtime allowed the Drolls and their staff to experiment with new menu items. With an additional license, they are excited to offer smoked and grilled meats on Saturdays this summer. Brent did a tap takeover, filling all the brewery's taps with Forbidden Barrel beers.
They also hope to host live music and other events again soon, balancing safety with service.
"I want it to feel like an experience," Cheryl said, "like people are going out and being human again."
Other restaurants have unique needs that alter their reopening requirements.
While Worthington's Pizza Ranch was able to open for dine-in service Wednesday, the eatery won't offer its ever-popular buffet until Monday, assistant general manager Trenton Groeneweg said.
When the buffet does resume, it will be a contactless buffet — "cafeteria style," as Groeneweg described it. Restaurant staff in masks and gloves will stand on one side of the buffet and serve the items to customers as they come through the line. When dirty dishes are returned, they will be washed immediately, and one employee's singular role will be to sanitize every dish and surface.
"People are really looking forward to our buffet reopening," Groeneweg said, adding that restaurant staff are equally excited to be back to work.
For Ground Round, permission to reopen came as a surprise. Owner/operator Bob Rieckhoff explained that during the weeks of shutdown, he has been working to remodel the restaurant's kitchen. Just last week, he ordered a new cooler to replace one that was at the end of its life. The Friday executive order didn't give him enough time to be ready to reopen Wednesday.
Once the remodel is complete, Rieckhoff said he will spend several days training his staff on the new state safety requirements that come with reopening.
"We need to make sure the staff is safe and the customers are safe," he said.
Rieckhoff hopes to reopen in the next couple of weeks.