Outdoor service looks to boost businesses, even for one of Minnesota's largest breweries

'I can't fault any small business owner for making a decision when they're hanging on by a thread'
Fulton Beer
Photo credit Entercom

Minnesota's bar and restaurants are once again reimagining their outdoor spaces as loosened COVID-19 restriction went into effect Saturday, two days before the official start of winter.

Fulton Brewery in downtown Minneapolis was among the thousands of Minnesota bars, restaurants, and breweries that patiently waited to reopen for outdoor service over the weekend.

"We're super excited to welcome people back, especially before the Christmas holiday," said Fulton's Chief Operation Officer, Jim Diley. "This gives people a chance to put on their Minnesota coat and come out and enjoy some great, local, small business crafted beer."

Outdoor dining is limited by Gov. Tim Walz's latest executive order. Capacity must remain at 50%, or no more than 100 people. Only four customers are able to be seated at tables, which must be at least 6 feet apart from other tables.

"We've had pretty expansive COVID-safety policy since the reopening of taprooms, bars, and restaurants in June," Diley said. "We're now limiting our patio to about 8 tables and we'll be social distancing and limiting group sizes at each table."

Prior to the state's latest executive order on outdoor dining, some bars and restaurants across the state took matters into their own hands by choosing to allow indoor dining, which remains prohibited until at least January 10.

"I can't fault any small business owner for making a decision when they're hanging on by a thread. I understand where they're coming from. A lot of the places that are choosing to open are customers of Fulton and serve a lot of other great craft brewery products from Minnesota," said Diley.

Defying orders set by the state wasn't something Fulton was considering, however.

"Our top priority has always been the safety of our folks here, and right behind them, is the safety of our customers," Diley said. "For us, following the guidance of the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, and local officials comes first. So for us, we've chose to follow those guidelines and be limited by what we're allowed at the time."

Choosing not to reopen doesn't mean the four-week pause that ended late Friday night was easy for Fulton, which is among the states largest breweries.

"Not having that taproom revenue and experience before the holidays is very difficult on our operations. We've had to let some people go and furlough some people."

Fulton is one of the select few breweries in Minnesota that is prohibited by state law from selling growlers. The law states that once a brewer reaches 20,000 barrels of beer a year, they can no longer sell off-sale beer.

"Our opportunities to do something different to keep people employed and give customers and offer customers that great experience during the shutdown was very limited, however we did open our kitchen a week ahead of the four week pause ending," Diley said. "We're excited that people will be able to try some of our food out of our kitchen for the first time in 13 months."