COVID-19 continues to take toll on restaurant industry with Surly Beer Hall, Butcher & the Boar closing

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on the Twin Cities restaurant industry. This week, the award-winning Butcher & the Boar announced it’s shutting its doors for good.

“It was an extremely difficult and sad decision,” said Doug Van Winkle, the owner. “It was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Over the last eight years, he said they’ve enjoyed serving their loyal customers, creating relationships with great vendors and building a team of “some of the best” he’s ever worked with.

Still, Van Winkle told KSTP the pandemic came at a cost.

Butcher & The Boar closing permanently, citing COVID-19, civil unrest

“We were down 70% year over year, that’s with the regulations with the 50% capacity and the social distancing,” he said.

Van Winkle cites restrictions on events, changing regulations and a drop in business travelers as contributing factors.

The city’s unrest also added another challenge.

“Certainly we were supportive of all of the peaceful protests,” said Van Winkle.

The looting and vandalism, however, forced them to temporarily close down multiple times. Last week’s unrest cost them about 200 reservations.

“It’s kind of a ghost town downtown and people are anxious about coming down,” he said.

On Wednesday, there was another blow to the industry. Surly Brewing Company announced it will close its Beer Hall in November due to a drastic dip in revenues.

In a statement, management said in part, “It became clear that beer halls are by definition gathering places and gathering places and pandemics don’t mix […] We ran all the numbers. We looked at all the possibilities."

Surly to close beer hall ‘indefinitely’ on Nov. 2

According to the company, revenues are down 82% compared to the same period last year and if they stayed open they would lose at least another three-quarters of a million dollars this winter.

“To see them have to make the painful decision to close is a really important marker for us as a state,” said Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota.

Rammer said this is a critical time as the industry transitions from summer to fall.

“How many of those folks that are dining out now will choose to go inside?” she said. “And again we’re at that critical tipping point where we need to give these operators every chance to survive.”

According to Rammer, a recent study by Hospitality Minnesota showed 40% of hospitality businesses statewide that responded, do not expect to make it until the end of the year under the current conditions.

She hopes the state will loosen restrictions on restaurants by increasing the size of groups that can dine together, from four people or six household members, to six people or eight household members. She’s also calling for the state to relax regulations on indoor dining, allowing for 75% of capacity use instead of just 50%. Rammer wants to see event capacity increased as well.

“What we need is action now, we can’t wait,” she said.

Megan Caswell, a Surly bartender, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it’s been an uncertain time.

“It’s been, you know, a little scary,” she said, worried about the health of herself and fellow staff members.

Caswell received a layoff notice in her email on Wednesday morning and then saw on social media that the Beer Hall is closing. She’s worked there for five and a half years.

“I did not think they were going to shut down the Beer Hall, it was a shock,” she said.

Caswell told KSTP on Monday, employees informed the company of their intent to unionize over concerns about safety, pay and benefits.

She believes the decision to close the Beer Hall is retaliation.

The company declined KSTP’s request for an interview but said in its statement, “The timing of this announcement is not ideal. On Monday, some hospitality employees notified us of their intent to unionize. We respect their decision to turn to an outside organization for representation and will continue the dialogue. That does not change the fact that our plans to close the Beer Hall were put in place weeks ago with the announcement planned for this week.”

“I think that’s false,” said Caswell. “Since I have come back in early July we’ve steadily increased the business, they’ve recently added not only new staff members but new positions […] I just find it hard to believe that they can’t sustain the amount of staff they have on.”

She said she hopes they can work together to come to an understanding and preserve jobs.