With Minnesota restaurants closed to dine-in customers, some are hopeful for a new bill that would allow establishments to serve beer and wine to go.
Duluth restaurants are eager to sell beer and wine, which customers regularly request to buy along with their takeout food. The state Legislature is expected to consider the bill as early as Thursday. If the measure passes, Minnesota would join numerous other states that also allow alcohol to-go orders.
The bill would ease coronavirus' impact on an industry that’s seen nearly 50,000 unemployment claims filed statewide since March 21, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Minnesota restaurants can only serve food via curbside pickup, delivery or takeout as of March 17. Gov. Tim Walz enacted a stay-at-home order, which will last until at least May 4, to help curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, introduced the bill, which would last for as long as restaurants are closed. Up to 144 ounces of beer and 1,500 milliliters of wine could be purchased per order.
“Minnesotans have turned out in droves to support their hometown establishments, and I suspect they will take advantage of these expanded offerings, too. The governor has committed to sign this bill. Let’s do our jobs and send it to his desk," Housley wrote in a news release.
“In these really troubling, terrible times, anything helps,” said Jason Vincent, owner of the Vanilla Bean Restaurant, which has locations in Duluth and Two Harbors. The restaurant would sell mimosas — made of a mini-champagne and a small orange juice bottle — if the bill passes.
“I have had people ask for those or request those during our takeout service, especially for weekend brunch,” Vincent said. He’s also considering venturing into bloody mary kits, which would include all components of a bloody mary drink except for liquor.
Creative ideas, like the bloody mary kits, help keep businesses open, he said.
“We have had to stretch our minds and our creativity … to bring a dollar in the door during these times … (to) stay afloat, keep people on payroll, keep the lights on, keep the doors open,” he said. “You're seeing all of these creative ideas that we're coming up with, because that's really all we have to depend on right now.”
Adding the cost of a drink to a meal will eventually help Vanilla Bean’s business, Vincent said, once people understand that they can order drinks and the limitations of the law.
Julie Thoreson, CEO and co-owner of Black Woods Group, said any additional sales will allow the Tavern on the Hill and its Black Woods Grill and Bar location in Duluth to bring back more staff and reduce inventory that's sitting on shelves and in coolers.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that it would move through. Anything would help right now, even if it's temporary," she said.
At Burrito Union, they’re looking forward to selling beer with to-go meals.
“We've had tons of people from Burrito Union asking if we could do that,” said Tori Johnson, marketing manager for Just Take Action Duluth, which owns Burrito Union, Fitger’s Brewhouse, The Rathskeller and more.
People want to order beer with meals because it results in one less trip outside the house, Johnson said.
“We're ... equipped and ready to go in case we can start selling growlers and crowlers,” she said.