Area restaurants ramp up outdoor eating spaces

Businesses excited to welcome back more customers

060420.PEJ.restaurantsreopen (2).JPG
The Backus Corner Store chose a pleasant green space along the north side of the building for the new outdoor dining area. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Area restaurants with outdoor seating were able to reopen earlier this week with some working to offer more space to eat outdoors.

According to the governor’s executive order, restaurants were able to reopen with outdoor dining options Monday, June 1, provided they follow social distancing rules and seat no more than 50 customers at a time. Tables must have at least 6 feet between them and are limited to four people, or six people if everyone is in the same family.

Restaurants and bars are also able to continue to offer takeout, curbside and delivery services, which have been permitted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota.

Reservations are required, and masks are required for workers and strongly recommended for customers.

The Pequot Lakes City Council was to consider temporarily closing the city parking lot north of Joe's Pizza on Front Street and closing one block of Government Drive west of Lakes Latte, Lucky’s Tavern and Latte Da to allow for temporary outside seating for those restaurants. City staff was to reach out to those restaurants to determine if they would find value in the city allowing outdoor seating in these two places.


The council met Tuesday, June 2, after the Echo Journal’s print deadline.

Beth McGuire, owner of Joe’s Pizza, said they don’t plan to offer outdoor dining because the restaurant doesn’t have the staff to implement the mandated precautions.

“We’ve basically, with the carryout and the delivery, been maintaining pretty well,” McGuire said, noting it wouldn’t be possible to offer the pizza buffet with outdoor dining only.

Likewise, Maucieri’s in Crosslake will continue its curbside service as it has since restaurants closed in March, even though the restaurant has set up a tent in the parking lot for outdoor dining.

“With the way things are, I think pickup is gonna be a big part of our plan,” owner Dawn Maucieri said. “People are just not going to want to come out.”

The restaurant’s menu has been limited for its curbside service, and will continue to be for the time being.

“Outside, we will be doing all plastic,” Maucieri said. “It’s not really feasible to have a steak when you have to use plastic forks and knives and that kind of stuff.”

Despite a great deal of focus on the curbside service, Maucieri’s does expect to see plenty of sit-down customers in its first week back.


“I think some people are really anxious to come out so I think we're going to be pretty busy,” Maucieri said. “So we’ll be fully staffed just to kind of figure it out, but I think people are just ready to come out in public a little bit more … The people have been really awesome. We are really excited to have them back in our place and do what we do.”

Though Moonlite Bay in Crosslake is now open for outdoor dining, owner Jessica Eide expects curbside and dockside orders to remain a big part of business this summer. But she expects some friendly faces to sit down for a meal as well.

“Serving 50 people cannot sustain what we are used to,” Eide said. “We are coming into our busy season, so this is painful for all of these businesses … I feel like a lot of our customers have been super supportive with takeout, and they absolutely can’t wait for us to be open.”

Eide believes the restaurant’s patio area can seat 50 people with plenty of distance between tables. Likewise, employees will use precautions laid out by the governor - a simple task for a business that focuses on cleanliness and sanitation.

“We're hoping that the public is mindful of the fact that we are only following the rules that they've imposed on us,” Eide said. “It’s not how we want to be doing it. We don't only want to have 50 people at a time. We would love to be full-open with people inside … I feel very fortunate that we have a patio at this point in time, and we are able to wait on 50 people outdoors.”

Old Milwaukee Club in Ideal Township will also use a tent on the building’s north side, as well as its patio on the south side. Though it will be able to serve “close to the full menu,” certain food shortages may limit some items. Certain things, like the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat fish on Fridays and chicken on Saturdays, may not be available at the start.

“We already have the chicken in a bucket (for takeout orders), but we don’t have all-you-can-eat right now, and I don’t know if we are going to have that,” owner Jeff Feltmann said. “It just depends on the traffic during the course of the week, and the feedback from the people.”

Feltmann said he has no real expectations for the first week or so in terms of traffic. He expects locals to return to a version of normalcy, but vacationers and cabin goers may be more hesitant to visit public locales at first.


“It's kind of like swimming for the first time of the season,” Feltmann said. “Is the water cold or warm? We’re sticking our toes in.”

Precautions taken by the Old Milwaukee Club are in line with - and in some cases go beyond - the standards set by the governor and the Centers for Disease Control. Employees will use bleach water regularly and sanitizer frequently. Even the customers’ credit cards will be returned to them on a sanitized towel. Things that have been traditionally self-serve, like the salad bar and the restaurant’s “world famous” popcorn, will now be served by an employee.

“My employees are missing our customers very much, and they can’t wait to see them,” Feltmann said.

Lucky’s Tavern, which just recently reopened, already can seat 50 people on its outdoor patio dining area on Government Drive in Pequot Lakes, and Latte Da on Government Drive also has adequate outdoor seating, owners of those businesses said.

The A-Pine Family Restaurant in Jenkins-Pequot Lakes expanded its outdoor eating area to meet guidelines of serving people.

“What we've done now for reopening is we’ve moved booths out into our side parking lot. Out in the front we put up a small tent with tables and chairs underneath it so we serve people outside now,” owner Rick Beyer said.

The restaurant already had some tables in the parking lot for people to sit and wait for their to-go food.

“The customers today have just been overjoyed - so happy to sit down and have a meal served to them,” Beyer said Monday, June 1. “We’ve all made great sacrifices - financially and with our freedoms. It’s time to get back to business as usual.”


In Backus, the June 1 outdoor dining allowance has allowed restaurants to expand their hours. Since the beginning of the shutdown, the Backus Corner Store scaled back its closing time from 7 p.m. to 2 p.m., but with limited sit-down options, owner Dave Sheley decided it made sense to close at 3 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

The Salty Dog Saloon and Eatery is back to 4-8 p.m. hours as well, though both establishments had to take extra steps to allow sit-down dining, as neither had outdoor seating.

“We purchased picnic tables,” said manager and co-owner Troy Sewall. “They have to be sanitized and cleaned after every use.”

The Salty Dog brought in a total of eight with sun umbrellas. Similarly, the Backus Corner Store is delving into outdoor dining for the first time.

“This would be our first real true effort,” Sheley said. “I bought five new picnic tables and put them on the side of the building with the door to make it easy for waitresses to go in and out.”

Of course, all establishments are taking extra precautions from extra care of cleaning, to disposable plates and utensils.

“We have plenty of clean, strong solutions ready to clean anything up that would be used by multiple people,” Sheley said.

The Corner Store has been using exclusively to-go boxes, but with outdoor seating the establishment will be able to use real dishes again. The Salty Dog has a different approach.


“We ordered paper cups instead of plastic ones for easier disposal and we're using plastic silverware,” Sewall said. “There’s a lot of one-use items we switched to. We’re sanitizing tables and baskets after every use and using social distancing and wearing masks. We’re just trying to follow the guidelines put in front of us to the best of our abilities.”

Because to-go food often gets cold or soggy before it can be eaten, both establishments are hopeful that having some seating will again draw some old, familiar customers.

“People here like the nostalgia of our establishment,” Sewall said. “A lot of people find it more enjoyable to sit down and have a meal rather than having to take it to go.”

“We don’t know how well it will go, but hopefully it will work out for a bit and it’s not an extended period of time,” Sheley said.

The Corner Store has been running bare bones staff since the shutdown, but outdoor seating is expected to allow the store to bring back a dishwasher at the very least, and maybe more if things go well.

“You can’t go hog wild on the staff and then it rains and all there is is takeout,” Sheley said. “Obviously what the weather is is going to be a big deal.”

Inside Backus city limits, Willard’s Saloon and Eatery was chomping at the bit to open six tables in a fenced-in area in front of its building so as to limit entry to adults, much like the establishment does during Corn Fest. They only needed approval from the city for this decision, which was granted during the June 1 regular council meeting.


060420.PEJ.restaurantsreopen (1).JPG
A-Pine Family Restaurant in Jenkins set up an entire pavilion tent to provide outdoor dining to customers, which proved a good idea since it rained June 1 and 2 for at least part of the day. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

What To Read Next
Get Local