Restaurant outdoor seating 2

Mankato Tent and Awning owner Jesse Spiess helps put up a tent in Big Dog’s parking lot in preparation for patio seating opening next week.

MANKATO — As Tom and Alyssa Jones prepare to open their Oleander Saloon to outdoor service at half capacity Monday, they worry about the future.

“We’re in the red,” Tom Jones said. “We tried to get the government loan but that didn’t work out.”

A month ago he went to his banker to get another loan to help carry them through.

“Looking at it right now, we’ll be in the red for three years just to get back to where I started,” he said.

In North Mankato a few restaurants and bars have applied to the city for expanded seating options, said Community Development Director Mike Fisher.

Big Dog, Circle Inn, NaKato, and the American Legion all received permits to add outdoor seating in part of their parking lots.

“We’re asking them as part of the application process to give us a sketch of where they want their expansion to be. We make sure there’s adequate protection around it with fencing and that security measures have been taken,” Fisher said.

“So far they’ve been pretty easy. They’ve been contiguous outdoor spaces. They’re simply adding to what they have.”

If the business sells liquor, the city also requires the bar or restaurant provide proof that their insurance company includes coverage for the patio expansion, not just their existing patio.

Some bars and restaurants don’t have an easy option for adding outdoor space. Fisher said there was some talk of setting something up to allow seating in the street, next to the curb, on Belgrade Avenue.

“But we have 10,000 vehicles travel through the 200 block of Belgrade every day, so we have to look out for the safety of everyone,” Fisher said. “Certainly we want to help our businesses out any way we can, but we have to keep in mind the safety of all.”

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said the city has about 40 establishments that have some level of alcohol service and more than half of those have existing patios.

He said about eight businesses have gotten city approval to either expand outdoor seating or open a new patio.

“What’s uncertain is how many will open.”

Hentges said bars that don’t focus much on food sales may decide opening for only some outdoor liquor sales may not be worth it.

Some bars and restaurants on Front Street have been discussing the possibility of trying to use part of the street in a one-block stretch to more easily accommodate outdoor seating and service.

The block was once dubbed the “Barmuda Triangle” after bars on either side would close the street some weekends and set up tables on the street with the area surrounded by fencing.

Hentges said setting up tables in the street shared by several bar/restaurants would not, in the city’s opinion, jibe with the governor’s order.

He said bar owners are discussing other possibilities, such as using more of the sidewalk for seating and maybe using parking stall areas for pedestrian traffic.

But he said there is some opposition to those ideas from other businesses that rely on the parking spots for pickup business they are conducting.

Hentges said the city’s concern is to allow safe pedestrian movement in the area for people going to businesses, apartments or elsewhere downtown.

Heading outdoors

Like many other bars and restaurants in the area, the Joneses have been finding tents, tables and chairs to set up an expanded outdoor seating area at the Oleander at 701 N. Riverfront Drive.

They are using their existing patio and adding two tents in their parking lot, with tables that will accommodate 50 people after proper spacing between seating areas.

“We’re taking half our parking lot, so it’s a pretty big area,” Tom Jones said.

Beyond getting tents and tables, they’ve been restocking food and other inventory at the Oleander.

Like other businesses that want to expand outdoor seating, they got a permit from the city of Mankato.

“That went real well. It was smoother than I thought it would be,” he said. “I got it quick, which was nice.”

Jones was disappointed with the governor’s order to allow only outdoor service and only at 50% capacity.

“I was hoping for 50% interior (seating) and outdoor seating. Even 25% interior and outdoor would have helped.

“This isn’t near what we’d hoped for or needed,” he said.

“Everyone is hurting. I wish it would go quicker but there’s not much you can do about it.”

Jones said he’s not sure what to expect as far as customer numbers.

“I’m not sure if it will be worth it or not, but we have to try. My employees want to come back and I want to pay them.”

He is bringing back his full staff and even has to add one person to do security in the outdoor seating area, something required by the city when alcohol is served.

While they had toyed with the idea of opening at midnight Monday, Jones said they still have a lot to do and will instead open at noon.

After that, they will be open their normal hours, from noon to 2 a.m. most days.

Indoor service next?

Gov. Tim Walz recently signed an executive order allowing bars and restaurants to reopen Monday, but only for outdoor service. The trade group representing restaurants called the decision to allow only outdoor service “surprising and disappointing.”

Bars and restaurants must ensure a minimum of 6 feet between outdoor tables and limit capacity to no more than 50 people. Each table can have no more than four customers, or six if they are one family unit.

Under the order, customers must make reservations to dine at restaurants. Employees are required to wear masks, and customers are strongly encouraged to wear masks.

On Wednesday Walz said dining inside restaurants could be the next step but that state health officials are waiting to see if the recent move to allow more retail stores to open will create a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

“We have been very cognizant of the pain that is causing economically,” Walz said of restrictions on restaurants and bars. “I think it is falling heavily on restaurants and the hospitality industry.

“It was never meant to make people whole; it was one step in the direction,” he said of outdoor dining.

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