Southwest restaurants scramble to find new model

Service-industry employees hurting

Broders’ Cucina Italiana
Broders’ Cucina Italiana will remain open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for takeout or delivery during the shutdown. Restaurateur Molly Broder is pictured in this file photo.

With Mayor Jacob Frey and Gov. Tim Walz ordering all restaurants, bars and coffee shops to halt in-person service during the coronavirus pandemic, many Southwest Minneapolis restaurants are scrambling to put together plans for takeout service and for helping their employees.

On March 16 Frey declared a state of emergency and ordered all restaurants, bars and coffee shops to close by noon March 17. A similar statewide order made by Walz closed those businesses and fitness clubs, spas, museums and skating rinks statewide through March 27.

The governor also signed an executive order that will suspend payments by impacted employers into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and will allow workers to start receiving benefits as soon as they stop working.

Carrie McCabe-Johnston, who co-owns three destinations for food and drink in Southwest Minneapolis with her husband, Jasha Johnston, said they are evaluating what their offerings will be now that restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery.

The couple owns Nightingale at 25th & Lyndale and Mortimer’s at Franklin & Lyndale, both of which they are planning to keep open. Tilt Pinball Bar, which is more of a drink-centric establishment, will close.

At Nightingale, the plan is to offer take-out food options, with a focus on family-style meals people can pick up, bring home and heat.

“I think the family meals will be the best offering we have,” McCabe-Johnston said.

The menu for those meals will change daily, but will include a main dish, salad and sides;

a vegetarian meal will be available each day, too, McCabe-Johnston said. In addition to

family meals, Nightingale’s takeout menu will include staples like the burger, Reuben sandwich and chicken wings. But a likely reduction in staff means they won’t be able to offer the full menu, she said.

Not being able to give staff the hours they need is a big concern for their businesses, McCabe-Johnston said. Some employees have told them they don’t want to work during the crisis, while others need the hours. She is hopeful the takeout business will be robust enough that the restaurant is able to give hours to all employees who want them.

It is unclear if or in what form the state and federal government will provide relief to workers and owners of small businesses.

“It’s just all very confusing right now,” McCabe-Johnston said.

Grand Cafe at 38th & Grand is offering $30 take-and-bake meals for two during  the shutdown and will be donating a lunch to local people in need for every dinner for two sold, the award-winning restaurant announced on social media. The cafe will also be selling bagged lunches for $7.

“We’re currently developing more ways to stay safely connected to our community,” the restaurant wrote in a post.

Common Roots Cafe at 26th & Lyndale has created a new delivery option for customers amid the outbreak. The cafe is accepting online orders for bagels and other food options and will be offering contact-free delivery service for anyone within a two-mile radius. Customers can give directions on where the food will be dropped and Common Roots will call when the order is there. All orders need to be placed by noon the day before delivery and they will take orders up to five days in advance.

“We want to meet the needs of the community. If there are options you’d like to see, ask,” the restaurant wrote to customers. “Like everyone, we’re trying to figure things out.”

Broders’ Cucina Italiana and Pasta Bar at 50th & Penn will both remain open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for takeout or delivery during the shutdown, the family restaurants announced on social media. People can order by phone or through the new Broders’ app.

Revival at 43rd & Nicollet is remaining open for takeout and delivery orders through DoorDash and has an ample supply of fried chicken, according to employee Karina Vazquez. The restaurant is rotating front of house staff as takeout personnel.

“The hope is people help support the servers doing takeout through tips,” Vazquez said.

Boludo at 38th & Nicollet will still be serving empanadas and pizza for takeout.

Some restaurateurs are still trying to figure out what they’ll be able to offer. Matthew Kazama, owner of Ramen Kazama at 34th & Nicollet, wants to provide some sort of carry-out dish during the outbreak, but he doesn’t think his signature item is a good fit.

“Ramen is not the best takeout food,” he said.

The fresh noodles, piping hot broth and delicately cooked eggs are best eaten immediately, he said. Right now, he and his staff are trying to come up with a rice-based dish that works well as a carry-out item on the fly. But he doesn’t plan to open his restaurant back up until he does.

Kazama said he is concerned about his workers during the shutdown and is encouraging them to apply for temporary unemployment benefits while the restaurant is closed and plans to bring them back when the shop reopens.

“I want to support my employees, that’s the most important thing,” he said. Ramen Kazama’s neighboring shop, Ichigo Tokyo Crepes, is remaining open for takeout and delivery, the restaurant announced.

Some restaurants are opting to wait out the virus entirely. Victor’s 1959 Cafe at 38th & Grand and Kyatchi up the street at 38th & Nicollet both have said they will close during the shutdown and hope to be back soon.

Grand Cafe
Grand Cafe will be offering take-home dinners for two and bag lunches during the restaurant closure ordered by state and local officials amid the coronavirus outbreak. File photo

Concern for workers

Many restaurants will have to lay off staff or reduce hours significantly during the shutdown, which has industry members deeply concerned about the financial and mental well-being of workers.

Sarah Webster Norton, executive director of the service industry advocacy group Serving Those Serving, said there is great grief and sadness among Minnesota restaurant workers right now.

“Right now, people’s No. 1 concern is finances and a close second is mental health and anxiety,” Webster Norton said.

Her organization focuses on providing their Employee Assistance Program via Sand Creek Workplace Wellness to provide referrals to assistance programs and mental health services. There are 33 restaurants participating in the program, including Iron Door Pub and Black Sheep Pizza in Southwest. Restaurant workers, Webster Norton said, are already a stressed-out workforce and losing jobs and hours due to the crisis could push workers to a breaking point.

Serving Those Serving believes the shutdowns are the right call but that the consequences could be devastating for the industry.

The group says any wage-related assistance to restaurant staff should be based on W2 filings that include declared tips, not just hourly wages that don’t reflect their typical earnings.

“We deal with insane things every day at our jobs,” Webster Norton said. “This is a resilient group of people and we’re going to get through this.”