Struggling Twin Cities restaurants see community support as coronavirus shutdown threatens business

(FOX 9)

Struggling Twin Cities restaurants see community support as coronavirus shutdown threatens business

The service industry has been hit hard by the response to the coronavirus, leaving thousands suddenly unemployed.

Efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus forced state leaders to make a tough choice and close local restaurants and bars to dine-in service. But, in their first weekend open to drive-up and take-out only service, restaurant owners are seeing the overwhelming support of their communities.

In a business built on socializing, social distancing is taking a major toll.

"Monday, when the order came through, we laid off 400 people," said Luke Shimp, the owner of Red Cow.

Shimp says, across his six restaurants, they’re losing money every day, even as they’ve added drive-up take-out -- something they’re doing simply to keep at least some employed.

"This isn’t a money-making proposition at all," he explained. "It’s kind of like pick the best worst option."

It’s a similar story at The Lex in St. Paul where they’re offering a pot pie dinner to-go to anyone who buys a $100 gift card.

Two days in and they can’t keep up with demand. The community trying to show service workers just how much they care.

Josh Thoma owns the Lex and Smack Shack restaurants. To help employees at his north loop restaurant, his handing out food when they come in for their final two paychecks. 

"The only way we can support our employees now is when the stop in to pick up paychecks, we’ve had food for them," said owner Josh Thoma. "Jokingly, but kind of not jokingly, toilet paper.”

While the first weekend of take-out-only had a major learning curve, with long wait times and traffic jams, patrons are leaving huge tips, which at these restaurants are going straight to the employees who were laid off.

"It’s amazing the generosity we’ve seen so far so I don’t know what the number will be," said Shimp. "It all depends on how long this goes on for."

As these restaurant owners do all they can to stay afloat, they know that too many are depending on them.

"This is just a building and they really truly are the heart and soul and we’re doing all we can for them," said Thoma.