Restaurants cheering on proposal for to-go alcohol sales in bid to boost business

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The COVID-19 threat has brought hard times to many metro area restaurants. 

Banned from in-house seating, some eateries are using carryout and curbside pickup as a way to survive during the pandemic. 

"It's a sad time. A lot of people are laid off," says Frank Ross, who drove up to Saji-Ya restaurant in St. Paul for some takeout. "Small businesses are hurting, so any way to make it easy."

Patrick Kallemeyn, who co-owns two side-by-side restaurants along Grand Avenue in St. Paul, says his business has dropped 80% and he's had to lay off 86 people.

But he's hoping new state legislation, allowing to-go alcohol sales bought with food, could make a difference. 

A way to fight back against the economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 threat. 

"What it's doing to our bar and restaurant industry in the state of Minnesota is devastating," says State Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault. "This is one small step that will help." 

The proposal allows bars and restaurants to sell a limited amount of alcohol with each to-go food order: up to a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine, sold in their original containers.

"Just come in and get your chow, get something really nice that'll go really well with it," Kallemeyn said. "We're excited for the opportunity." 

The idea is giving restaurant owners hope. 

At Khyber Pass Café, where everything on the menu is takeout, the addition of alcohol could keep the place going, owner Emel Scherzad said. 

"Any extra income is beneficial for us right now," he said. "Not just for us, but for everyone." 

With competition from nearby liquor stores, some restaurants are exploring the idea of food pairings and special discounts, as a draw for potential customers. 

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Senate has now approved an alcohol to-go bill, and the House is expected to do the same on Friday. 

Gov. Tim Walz has indicated he will sign the measure. 

That's good news for restaurant fans like Charlie Shafer.

"I think if a restaurant offered a deal with the meal, like a drink that would pair well with it, price-wise, I think I'd be interested," he said.