Governor’s order: How local restaurants are working to keep afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

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It’s a sign of the times, hanging in window after restaurant window along Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

"Open for takeout or third party delivery."

"Open for takeout."

"We will be open for curbside takeout."

"It’s very surreal, it’s a little unsettling and scary," says Kaye Arola, who stopped by Saji-Ya for some takeout Wednesday night. "The uncertainty is hard. We want to keep supporting them."

KSTP’s full COVID-19 pandemic coverage

Citing COVID-19 health concerns, Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order Wednesday, which includes an extension on restaurant and bar restrictions.

The restrictions, announced in an executive order last week, ban dining in, but allow takeout, carryout and drive-through service.

"I think they’re trying to strike a balance of keeping people safe and trying to keep small businesses and the economy going," Arola says.

For restaurant owners, employees and customers, it’s the new culinary normal.

Trying to keep a business going, while serving customers sitting in their cars in a parking lot or parking space.

"We ask that they wait in their cars… if they want something from the restaurant, we’ll bring it out to them," says Dixie-on-Grand co-owner Patrick Kallemeyn. "Just stay as far away as we can, just dropping some food off, and getting back inside and making some more."

But after just over a week of state-imposed restrictions, some restaurants are hurting.

Kallemeyn says he and his partners, who operate three different restaurants, have been forced to lay off 50 employees.

Eight people now do the food prep, cooking, serving and cleanup.

"It’s down over 50-60% for sure," Kallemeyn says. "Just hang on for the ride, and love each other and support each other and make the best of what comes."

Restaurateurs are trying to get the word out: dining in is out, but takeout is in.

They want Minnesotans to know they are still in business and want to serve their customers.

Just down the street, the French Meadow Wine Bar is also seeing tough times.

"Let’s just say we are at 10% of the sales," says owner Francois Paradeise. "So 90% drop."

Paradeise recalls how his family– he still has relatives in Paris– survived two World Wars.

He says people around the world have been dealt a bad hand by COVID-19.

"We got our hand delivered by that virus, worldwide, so let’s play the best we can," Paradeise says.

Both owners say they’re trying to do right by their employees– and that the health and safety of their customers are more important than money.

Kallemeyn has been calling his laid-off workers, to see how they’re doing.

He and his partners have started a social media page to help them navigate the application process for unemployment benefits.

Paradeise says he’s determined to keep his handful of employees working, and his business open.

If it takes curbside to do that, he says, so be it.

"In the meantime, let’s try to serve each other," he says. "Let’s try to be kind to each other, and keep business open as long as we can."