Jan 6, 2022 - COVID

COVID-related closures hit Twin Cities restaurants, again

A sign saying "Sorry, we're closed" but the O has COVID-19 spikes.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

At least 20 restaurants and bars across the metro are going back into hibernation as the Omicron variant sweeps the service industry and a labor shortage leaves many short-staffed.

What's happening: Businesses are canceling reservations, posting last-minute closures on social media and leaving signs on the door announcing outbreaks among staff.

  • Axios has confirmed 20 establishments have temporarily closed due to COVID-19 for at least one day in the past week, as of Wednesday, though the number is likely higher.

Why it matters: Despite the CDC's shortened quarantine guidelines, as little as one exposure could force a small business to shutter for days.

State of play: Minnesota has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases recently, and while more than 67% of residents over age 5 are fully vaccinated, Omicron has led to an increase in breakthrough cases.

What they're saying: Pete Rifakes, who owns five Minneapolis restaurants including Town Hall Brewery and The Sidecar, said decisions to temporarily close happen "at the snap of a finger."

  • He estimated his businesses shut down around 10-15 days in the last few months due to last-minute labor shortages.
  • "We're already staffed at a low level, and with COVID, when you have one person with symptoms, you'll have more," he said. "It's hard to predict."

Meanwhile, some Blue Plate restaurants occasionally have executives running floor shifts due to the shortage — a move that co-owner Stephanie Shimp said was previously "unheard of."

Between the lines: Some local businesses are taking a "better safe than sorry" approach.

  • Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra canceled concerts from Jan. 7-9 to allow time for new testing regimes.
  • Minneapolis clothing store B. Resale preventatively closed in-store shopping for a week, though no staff had COVID-19 at the time of the announcement.

What's next: Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that the Omicron wave is expected to peak in the third week of January, per Mayo Clinic modeling. But don't expect normalcy next month.

  • "We want to feel like we're moving forward or getting out of something," said Black Hart owner Wes Burdine, who closed the soccer bar for a week after an outbreak. "But we're realizing things are going to be cyclical or changing constantly."
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