"It's a sucker punch" says a Minneapolis restaurant owner about Gov. Walz's reopening order

Adam Carter
May 21, 2020 - 1:26 pm

A sucker punch.  That's how the co-owner of two Minneapolis restaurants feels about Governor Walz' June 1st restaurant reopening guidelines.  Jay Ettinger is co-owner of Empire Entertainment, which owns the two Pourhouse restaurants in Minneapolis.  He is now asking for restaurant owners to come together and demand that Governor Walz rethink his order.

"The only way to describe it is a sucker punch. It really came out of left field. We are all led to believe that we're going to get 50% capacity of our space and we'd made the preparations for that. We'd spent at least four to six weeks preparing, to map out floor plans and to go through best practices and it just really came out of nowhere and everyone I've talked to is feeling the exact same as I am"

Ettinger says that while he wasn't getting his guidance from the Governor's office, he did have people on the inside in the Minnesota Legislature that were feeding him information. The Pourhouse owner says that while he thinks Governor Walz has done a good job to this point, he thinks that not working with his constituents on the best practices for restaurant and bar reopening isn't in the communities' best interest. 

"To hear that he's not willing to work with state legislatures on this and he's basically kind of gone off on his own and kind of gone rogue. I don't know if that's the right term to use or fair term, but he really isn't seeking help from people that are business owners and, and certainly not from lawmakers."

The Payroll Protection Program was set up to help small businesses, like Ettinger's restaurants, keep employees on-staff and give them options during the pandemic. The PPP was widely viewed as a disaster as it was rolled out and that terms of the program have been changed unilaterally and that businesses don't have a clue as to what their terms are. Ettinger says that the PPP has only given The Pourhouse so much time. 

"You know, this PPP money has been really kind of a complicated issue just because of the laws and the rules with spending. It keeps changing. So I think most people are being fairly conservative at this point because the way it's set up is that you have eight weeks to spend it from when you're granted that money or when it shows up in your account. Well, none of us are open. There's no cash flow coming in. So to spend it now, the only thing we can really spend it on is our rent at this point. But the rules keep changing about it being forgiven, how it can be used the length of time. I do believe it's now been extended to about 12 weeks. So that helps us with a little bit more of a runway," Ettinger said. "But we need that money to start once we're open. The money that's been spent for these preparations and the energy in like every restaurant in every establishment is gonna be quite different. But I've seen people go as far as designing acrylic or plastic, like you see it at a grocery store, at their bar tops. So people can sit at a bar in order at a bar and the bartender is protected. Uh, some of those purchases have already been made, that money has already been spent on those items. And now this is a major setback for all of us."

While many small businesses have had to close during the coronavirus pandemic, Ettinger doesn't think the process of deciding who can remain open has been fair. 

"People say he's picking winners and losers and I don't think that's fair to the rest of us. The big-box stores are all thriving. You could sell a parking spot at Menard's on 394 for 20 bucks right now because it's so packed and, and I don't understand why they're not having to use the same best practices that we were prepared to do. It seems really unfair at this point."

Ettinger put out a call for action on his Facebook page on Thursday asking for other business owners who are in danger of losing their business to band together and form a coalition to fight back at Governor Walz's reopening strategy. He says that he hopes he can get the numbers to help make a difference. 

"I think the idea would be is if we have a coalition of people that are gonna have nothing to lose at this point because they're going to lose their business, that we all come together and we band together and we come up as as a coalition and we, I don't want to use the word gun, but put the gun in, Governor Walz's hand and make him pull the trigger and say the second you don't, you decide that you're not going to alter your decision these three, four, or 500 businesses are gone permanently and it's your choice. Or you can work with us and give us a chance to prove that we're capable of doing this the right way. I've been to Target. I've been to Home Depot, I've been to Menards. I've been to stores, it's what's going on there, we would do a much better job. I will tell you that what I'm seeing at these places, and it's not fair that we're not given the chance or the opportunity and the richer are only going to get richer once we all close because the big brands are going to scoop everything up for pennies on the dollars and thrive."

Ettinger says he doesn't know what specifically the next step will be, but he says there is strength in numbers.  Walz' order only allows restaurants to operate outdoor service, with tables limited to four people or less, and a maximum of 50 customers.

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