Restaurant, event venue owners rejoice as Minnesota dials back COVID restrictions

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Outdoor capacity limits and outdoor mask requirements for bars, restaurants and wedding venues will end Friday, under Governor Walz’s new plan for reopening Minnesota.

The plan also lifts the mandatory closing time of 11 p.m., which was put in place during the pandemic. Indoor capacity limits are set to end May 28.

Restaurant owners told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the announcement came as a major relief, after a year of losses.

"I literally reflected back on his press conference when he said, ‘We need a couple weeks and we’re going to get control of this.’ I don’t think any of us would ever have imagined that here we are, 15 months later," said Brian Ingram, owner of Purpose-Driven Restaurants in St. Paul.

Ingram’s restaurant group includes Hope Breakfast Bar, Woodfired Cantina, The Gnome and Purple Ice Cream.

Walz plan to end most COVID restrictions by end of May, mask mandate by July 1

He said his businesses have lost millions of dollars due to pandemic-related restrictions.

"The fact that our business is even still here and was able to make it through is a blessing on its own," Ingram said.

He said being able to stay open past 11 p.m. is a "lifeline" for bar owners, even if it requires a sudden shift in schedules and staffing.

"Yeah, it’ll be a quick pivot but one thing we’ve learned is how to pivot through all of this," Ingram said.

Fhima’s Minneapolis director of operations, Eli Fhima, said the easing of restrictions will bring much-needed business back downtown.

"I keep going back to that analogy of walking through the desert and you see the rain clouds and that’s how it feels," Fhima said. "People are still hesitant to come out […] so knowing that the capacity going to be at 100 percent, just the optic of that, and vaccinations are hopefully getting up to 70 percent is going to be huge for our volume in the upcoming months and into 2022."

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In the theater district, there is still a 2019-2020 season sign up outside of the Orpheum. Stages have been dark during the pandemic.

"It means a lot for the community on two levels," said Mark Nerenhausen, CEO Hennepin Theatre Trust. "It means a lot in terms of business because we’re very aware that what happens in the Hennepin Theater District helps create over 100 million dollars of economic impact. It’s not just our theaters opening, it’s the restaurants, it’s the hotels, it’s tourism that also are driven by that."

He said it also brings the return of a shared experience through the arts.

"I think we’ve realized over this past year, that that’s not something to take for granted, that’s something that matters a great deal for us so we’re not only excited about getting our shows back, we’re excited about getting our humanity back," Nerenhausen said

Minnesota wedding venues are also celebrating the relaxing of restrictions.

Kellerman’s Event Center in White Bear Lake said they had 60 weddings scheduled last year but more than half of them canceled.

"Some of them went to Wisconsin because they’re open, Iowa’s open. They’ve been jumping borders to do their weddings quite a bit. We lost a bunch that way," said owner Terry Kellerman. "So this is going to help us a lot."

Kellerman noted the easing of restrictions comes at the perfect time since it is the start of wedding season.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS also spoke with restaurant customers Thursday, who said they are cautiously optimistic about a "return to normal."

"It’s a change and it really makes you appreciate what you had and what might be again," James Otis in St. Paul said.