‘It seems like we are pivoting on a daily basis’: Wayzata restaurant copes with new dining restrictions

On a rainy, chilly Sunday in Wayzata, festive holiday lights are up and ready for the season.

But nearby are signs urging people to stay 6 feet apart. The evening streets are quiet, an unusual turn for this time of year.

"Wayzata is always beautifully decorated for the holidays,” said Sarah Gunter, director of operations at the Hotel Landing and 925 Restaurant. “It’s the new normal, and it seems like we are pivoting on a daily basis.”

This is the first weekend after Gov. Tim Walz’s order to close down in-person dining, gyms and indoor entertainment venues.

Gunter, like many others in Minnesota’s hospitality industry, has been through this before.

“Here we go again,” she says. “I was here last spring when we had to shut down, so I kind of knew the steps that we needed to take right away."

Among the hardest steps was to furlough 50 people.

"It’s hard though when you have to call your employees and tell them they’re not going to have a job for the next four weeks,” Gunter said.

For months, Gunter and her staff had taken steps against the pandemic.

Following CDC guidelines, they instituted a mandatory mask policy, applied safe distancing stickers on floors, installed hand sanitizer stations, super-cleaned rooms and wrapped TV remotes in plastic. They also limited the restaurant capacity, and even installed outdoor igloo domes.

"Those were selling like crazy, and people were enjoying them. They were feeling safe,” Gunter said. “They were nice and cozy on the cold nights."

Related stories:

Minnesota bars, restaurants to move to take-out only, gyms to close under new COVID-19 restrictions

Minnesota restaurant owners, employees face uncertain future as dine-in service halts anew

But now, with the governor’s order, those igloos are in storage.

The new rules ban both indoor and outdoor dining.

Before the Wednesday announcement, the restaurant had 150 Thanksgiving dinner reservations, which subsequently had to be canceled. So the restaurant is doing a culinary pivot: to-go and delivery dining.

Gunter says customers can even make a "reservation" when they want their meal ready.

“We’re always trying to think of different ways we can keep people safe, keep business going,” Gunter said.

All this is making for a challenging Thanksgiving week for Chef Jorge Cielo.

"We always try to provide the same quality food we serve when (diners) are here,” he said.

In the restaurant’s kitchen are a walk-in freezer and a walk-in refrigerator, packed with meat and produce.

There are also brand-new Thanksgiving takeaway and delivery menus.

“It is a family-style where you receive turkey, prime rib and a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” Gunter said. “We’re also doing a la carte as well.”

The restaurant has already received more than 100 orders for meals to go, including 30 deliveries to a nearby senior living facility.

Gunter says she’s done that before, too.

“I ran over between packing food for Easter and delivered some of these meals to these ladies that were nearby, and they were just so grateful,” she said. “It felt good to deliver these and put a smile on their faces.”

A culinary pivot, indeed. And maybe something else: the notion that comfort food can simply make people feel better during a pandemic.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure they feel like getting this pandemic out of their minds … get some good times,” Cielo said.

In the meantime, Gunter says she’s keeping her fingers crossed, vowing to keep the restaurant going through the end of restrictions — and after.

Six employees have volunteered to stay on and help with the takeout business and other tasks.

Gunter said she wants to get all of the employees back to work as soon as possible.

“It’s hard,” she said. “I feel for all the restaurants and the businesses that have suffered because of it. We have all suffered, and we’re trying to do the best we can, and to be able to open 100% when we’re able to.”

On this Thanksgiving week, even with all that’s happened, Gunter says she has much to be thankful for.

She wants everyone — staffers and customers — to be healthy and to return in the future when it’s safe.

“This is something we knew we need to do, and Minnesota numbers are skyrocketing,” Gunter says. “We know this has to happen in order to keep people safe.”