Northland Restaurants Open Back Up For Indoor Dining With Some Restrictions

"We're very glad to have customers dine and get us back to a sense of normalcy," said Alina Oswald, the general manager at Vitta Pizza in Duluth.

DULUTH, Minn. – Minnesota restaurants now can reopen for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity.

The change comes after Governor Tim Walz announced his plans to scale back some COVID-19 restrictions last week.

“We’re very glad to have customers dine and get us back to a sense of normalcy,” said Alina Oswald, the general manager at Vitta Pizza in Duluth.

It’s been a difficult year for the Northland hospitality industry, especially restaurants as they were forced to operate for a long time with only offering takeout and delivery.

“This year, since the pandemic has started in March, has been challenging for all Minnesota restaurants,” said Oswald.

Now, these restaurants have been given the go-ahead to open back up for indoor dining with capacity and spacing restrictions.

Many of the businesses have been busy preparing for this day.

“There are plates and glassware that haven’t been touched in months. All that has to get re-cleaned and washed. You are basically starting completely clean and fresh. We have been doing that for the last couple of days,” said Luke Schmitz, the co-owner of Va Bene Caffe.

Places like Vitta Pizza in Duluth have been able to survive by just doing takeout or delivery, but the return of inside dining will be a big help.

“We’ve been a little bit fortunate because pizza lends itself so well for a takeout and delivery model, but we miss our dine-in customers,” said Oswald.

Dining indoors at a restaurant is still an experience tough to copy at home.

“We are a destination kind of place with the view of Lake Superior. We have lots of birthdays and anniversaries here,” said Schmitz.

For restaurants such as Va Bene in Duluth in-person dining can be financially important because customers tend to order more extras when they eat on site.

“The other big thing about it is liquor sales. Liquor sales account for 30-40% of our sales for indoor,” said Schmitz. “Even with to-go you can do bottles of wine, but you don’t see that much of it because it is just as easy to go to a liquor store.”

Even though these restaurants are getting another chance to allow customers back into their businesses, employing a full staff remains a challenge.

“we’re trying to bring everyone back, but with it being winter there aren’t as many shifts as normal as it is in the summer. We try to make it as fair as possible for all our staff for a piece of the pie,” said Schmitz.

For now, restaurant owners are hoping they have seen the last of the widespread shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“It definitely could be a possibility, but it’s obviously nothing we want but we do the same thing and adapt like we have before,” said Schmitz.

Both Va Bene an Vitta Pizza have been increasing their sanitizing practices and following safety guidelines to help everyone feel comfortable about dining indoors once again.

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