Iron Range Restaurant Owners React to Second Shutdown Order

Restaurant Owners on the Iron Range are Feeling the Financial and Emotional Strain From Minnesota's Second Shutdown Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

EVELETH, Minn. – Hundreds who work in the service industry continue to be impacted by the second COVID-19 shutdown in Minnesota.

As Christmas comes quickly, the financial strain is not only impacting restaurant owners but the many employees who rely on tips to make ends meet.

“It’s upbeat, it’s fun, there are people everywhere,” said Jessica Lietz, owner of Boomtown Brewery and Woodfire Grill.

Lietz recently set the scene on a normal day, pre-pandemic.

“Walking in now and seeing chairs up and an empty building, it’s really disheartening,” said Lietz.

It’s no secret, she and many other business owners, and employees in the restaurant industry are seriously struggling throughout 2020.

“It’s been brutal to be completely honest,” said Lietz.

A bit of financial support during the first round of shutdowns helped staff stay afloat, but now weeks into the second shutdown and plans for financial support have just passed the House and Senate in St. Paul.

“It’s just really difficult because going into this second round of shutdowns there was no plan in place to help these businesses,” said Lietz.

For her staff, she feels empathy.

“It was really hard having to tell the staff,” said Lietz.

Many employees at Iron Range restaurants are left wondering what comes next.

“They’re trying to buy gifts for their kids and put food on the table, a lot of them aren’t getting assistance anymore,” said Lietz. “We’re used to taking care of these people and giving them a good place to work and now it’s really hard.”

Boomtown employs nearly 100 people. All are laid off except a handful of salaried staff in management positions.

“It’s so important for people to realize how dire this situation is for everybody involved,” said Lietz.

For Alissa and Patrick Horan, owning the Sawmill in Virginia has been a headache as the global pandemic continues.

Owner Alissa Horan says business is down roughly 90 percent.

“It’s definitely hard to take on a large brunt of this pandemic,” said Patrick Horan, co-owner of Sawmill Saloon & Restaurant.

The Horan’s hope this nightmare ends in the near future.

“Our hope is to be able to get through this and come out the other side,” said Horan.

Despite many struggles during the ongoing shutdown, the Sawmill is giving back to those working on the frontlines.

“We did donation Tuesdays, and we were able to provide meals to frontline workers,” said Horan.

They’re making the most out of a messy situation by providing food for those in the fields of law enforcement, medical, and even mail delivery.

“The Sawmill has been a huge supporter of this community, and the community reciprocates that back especially during our COVID times,” said Horan.

Before shutdown number two, the owners put thousands of dollars into their establishment to increase seating capacity while following social distancing guidelines.

“The times of the notices are very difficult to react to,” said Horan.

Days later, the doors were forced to close, remaining open only for takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup. All of these business owners on the Iron Range are thankful for one silver lining amid a year full of turmoil.

“The response from the community has been great,” said Lietz.

However, when the bills come due, reality sets in, and worry about what will happen next keeps nerves on high alert.

“Every day this goes on, it’s not just us. This is the industry as a whole. Everybody is losing money,” said Lietz. “These are very large buildings with a lot of overhead and to-go sales aren’t even coming close to covering those costs.”

Both Boomtown and Sawmill are offering to-go, curbside, and delivery service.

The owners are hopeful for a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Minnesota Senate voted 62-4 to approve the bill and send it to the House, which was passed 117-13 late Monday night and sent it to the governor for his signature.

The bill includes a $216 million grant program for businesses such as bars and restaurants and a 13-week extension on unemployment insurance for jobless workers.

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