St. Paul restaurant owner feels 'blindsided' by patio-only restaurant restriction

The patio at La Grolla in St. Paul would be able to open with limitations on June 1, but the restaurant owner say the patio-only restrictions are still too strict.

Restaurants with outdoor seating can start welcoming customers back on June 1, but owners are anxious and many feel they shouldn't have to wait if they can follow the safety guidelines.

The patio at La Grolla on Selby Avenue in St. Paul seats more than 100 people, but under the governor's plan, it would only be able to serve half that number when restaurants are allowed to reopen next month.

"I was absolutely blindsided and surprised by it," said Mikael Asp, the owner of La Grolla.

Asp is part of a group of restaurant owners who want the governor to reconsider the state's guidelines for restaurants to open back up with patio-only dining and a maximum of 50 customers next month. They want restaurants to be able to open their patios immediately and have 50 percent capacity indoors in a week and a half, so their businesses won't have to rely on the whims of Mother Nature.

"It gives restaurant owners some predictability that if they start calling servers back to work, they have an inside place they can count on without having it always dependent on the weather," said Rep. Dave Baker (R – Willmar).

Baker says many restaurant owners were caught off guard by the governor's patio-only dining announcement on Wednesday. He says 70 to 80 percent of restaurants in Minnesota don't have patios and those that do should be able to decide on their own how many customers they can serve while social distancing responsibly.

"50 outside might be more than some can handle and when you go to a place like a Lord Fletcher's or a Maynards, 50 people wouldn't be enough to even open the door," said Baker.

Asp says on good weather days, his patio will be bustling even with a limit of 50 customers, but he worries about his fellow restaurant owners, who don't have the same outdoor space and won't be able to operate under the same rules.

"I don't know anyone who wants to endanger a customer or an employee,” said Asp. “If someone is not safe to come out, they shouldn't come out, but we will try to do everything we can in the restaurant to make sure the people who do come and our employees are very safe."