“It has come to our attention that one of our team members has recently tested positive for COVID-19…. In order to keep our team and guests safe, we are closing for the time being so we can deep clean our space.”
Which Twin Cities dining establishment issued the above statement in the past, oh, we dunno, week? We get it, it’s hard to keep up! There have been so many, after all.
To keep this neat and tidy, we’ll just focus on restaurants, bars, and food halls that have closed since the evening of Tuesday, July 14 – approximately one day ago. In that time, to our knowledge, at least six have closed after staff or patrons caught the life-threatening virus that's uniquely ravaging the United States. And to be fair, that figure does not include individual vendors impacted by the food hall’s closure. Doing so would dramatically increase the total here to 12 small businesses… not to mention their hundreds? of employees.
The correct answer to our initial question was Bellecour, by the way.
In a statement posted to social media on Tuesday, July 14, the restaurant owned by chef Gavin Kaysen announced that an employee who last worked in the building on July 5 had caught the virus (“It has come to our attention that one of our team members has recently tested positive for COVID-19”) and that it would be closing “for the time being.” Bellecour only reopened its dining room to customers on June 30. At the time, Kaysen noted that his establishment was the only one not yet open in Wayzata, where he remarked that visions of happy, patio-going customers filling the borough made it seem "as though nothing has changed" in pandemic times.
Also on Tuesday, Minneapolis’s Mortimer’s Bar thanked an individual for alerting them that a duo of customers who’d visited the premises on July 9 had since tested positive for the virus. In response, Mort's said they would be temporarily closing and calling everyone on their contact tracing list, and have staff “tested as a precautionary measure.” The hybrid dive bar-venue plans to “reopen as soon as we get the results and the all clear,” which by their estimate could be as soon as the coming weekend.
Not far afield from Mortimer’s, Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar said a staff member at their Uptown location had tested positive for COVID. In light of the news, the restaurant would be closing as of Tuesday evening “for at least the next few days so employees can self-monitor and seek testing, as well as for extra sanitizing.”
Another Tuesday closure hit The Moose (aka the Moose on Monroe, DBA NE Moose Bar & Grill), which came forth with the unfortunate news that, “one of the pull-tab staff and now a karaoke host has tested positive for COVID.” No reopening date has been announced, as they deep-clean the bar and test all team members – even those with very limited exposure – before the public returns.
Just down the way, the Vegas Lounge was also hit by positive test results from a pull-tab employee on the same day. In response, the lounge with lungs of steel projected, “We will be closed from July 14 through July 24 to ensure the safety of our employees and our patrons and to deep clean the bar!”
Meanwhile, just five days after the North Loop Galley suspended operations until further notice due to an employee’s positive COVID test, neighboring food hall Graze Provisions + Libations announced Wednesday that it is also “closing until further notice.” A Graze team member who worked on Saturday, July 11 tested positive for the virus – even though, per the food hall’s communication, “the staff member was following our company policy and had a mask on their entire shift.” The combined impact of these shutdowns: Soul Bowl, Carbon Coal Fired Pit Beef, MidNord Empanadas & Churros, the Moral Omnivore, Fish Bowl Poké, Lu’s Restaurant, Honey and Rye, Wrecktangle Pizza, SoulFu, and Ono Hawaiian Plates.
Why does this matter? Well, for one, workers and customers are getting sick because, to quote New York Times food critic Tejal Rao:
Restaurateurs, despite being pushed into the role, are not our public-health officials. Understandably, many want customers to fill up their dining rooms, to eat and drink well, and to spend money again. But after collecting data from 30 million credit and debit card holders, JPMorgan Chase found a close correlation between the level of spending in restaurants and new cases of COVID-19: Restaurants can easily turn into hot spots.
Restaurant owners can’t, and shouldn’t, be in charge of weighing and managing the risks to both their customers and workers. How deep is their knowledge of the virus and its spread? What are their priorities? And why should they be put in an impossible position, stuck between the economic imperative to reopen and the fact that reopening may harm their workers and customers?
That last “may” is where your author, personally, chafes. No matter how much I read, I'm not an epidemiologist, and won't tell you what to do. Instead I ask each of you: What number of positive tests results from restaurant workers and fellow patrons will make it seem like the cost here is greater than the benefit? If not the portrait of the 24 hours above, which draws widely from the Twin Cities' food and dining community, then what might move your needle?
I fear that’s something we each have to come by on our own. But hey, we’re going not anywhere fast so…
To borrow the words of Bellecour: "Until then, please stay safe." And maybe stick to takeout?