Come on in!
Bars and restaurants across Minnesota opened their doors to the public last week after a mandated six-week pause due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’ve been ready to open for weeks,” Torey Statlander, owner and head chef at Torey’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown Owatonna said. “We had a little tidying up to do, but mentally we were ready to open.”
While everything is beginning to open up, Statlander and his fellow restaurateurs in Owatonna are well aware that things might change at the drop of a hat. “It’s always in the back of your mind that things could shut down, or open up again depending on the numbers,” he said. “So, we need to be ready to do what we need to do.”
Currently all restaurants and bars are able to operate at 50 percent occupancy and employees are required to wear masks while diners are required to wear masks when not at their tables and sanitizer is used to wipe down surfaces. “We’re trying to be as safe as possible,” Statlander said.
During the lockdown many of the restaurants operated as take-out joints until things got back to normal. “Take-out is a lot of work,” Statlander said. “I just want to get back to feeding people in the dining room. I couldn’t get open fast enough.”
Other restaurants opted to remain entirely closed during the shutdown, choosing to forego operating safely as a take-out place. “We do takeout normally, but decided to close for those six weeks,” Linda Escobedo, owner of The Kitchen in Owatonna said. “I don’t like to do take-out only.”
“I really appreciate that we’re able to be back open and really happy to be back open to see all of my costumers,” Escobedo said. “It’s not the same as before, some people are still scared and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want them to come if they’re scared.”
Regardless of the current restrictions, all of the restaurants are just glad to be back doing what they like to do. “We’re so happy to be open and we’re trying to take the best approach to follow the safety measurements,” Plaza Morena owner Jose Herrera said.
“I’m looking forward to being fully open, especially in the business in Owatonna because it’s a larger building with a larger cost,” Herrera explained. Herrera owns four locations throughout southern Minnesota and Iowa. “I hope we can go to 70% or 75% in 2021.”
As business starts to creep back to normal, making money isn’t necessarily the objective at this point. “We’re just trying to survive,” Herrera said. “We really appreciate all the business we get and all of the support from the community so that we can keep surviving.”
All of the other restauranteurs share Herrera’s sentiments. “I know it’s hard right now, but eventually we are going to get through this and operate at 100 percent,” Enrique Avalos who owns El Tequila in Owatonna said. “We just keep following the instructions and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“We all have to protect each other, that’s the meaning of wearing a mask and we’re doing all we can so we can get through this,” Avalos said about the safety precautions. “It’s always nice to see costumers come and chat and see them face-to-face.”
Opening back up isn’t just a godsend for restaurant owners and regular costumers itching for some good food and a drink, but also the staff. “It brings more of the staff back to work and a lot of my staff rely on tips,” Statlander said. “The more people we get back to work, the better.”
Throughout the pandemic local organizations and businesses within the community have maintained steady support for all those affected by the lockdowns. “We’ve gotten support from local businesses and the chamber has been super helpful as well as other groups such as Jumpstart Owatonna,” Statlander said.
“We can’t make it without all the support within the community,” Avalos said. “We wouldn’t be here without all the great support from everyone. Hopefully we get through this soon and we thank God that we are back open.”