City helping Duluth restaurants prep for outdoor dining

Updated: May 22, 2020 07:11 PM

Duluth restaurants and bars could be getting some relief from the city as they prepare for outdoor dining.

"We have been in contact with many of our licensees with their interest in expanding our outdoor space to accommodate social distancing. We recognize that there were changes in our code that we would like to make to help facilitate that," said Chelsea Helmer, the City of Duluth director of administrative services.

Helmer said they will bring this proposal to city council on Tuesday and also want to propose reducing liquor licensing fees.

"I really wanted to bring forward a fee reduction and take into consideration the tough economic situation they're facing with mandated closures from COVID-19," said Helmer.

Restaurants like Va Bene already offer outdoor seating that they'll be using for the reopening under limited capacity and are looking for more seating opportunities.

"We have been looking into expanding in partnership with the city and taking over some of their right of way outside of our building where we can have additional seating," said Patrick Moore, the co-owner of Va Bene.

Pickwick Restaurant staff said they plan on doing patio seating and feel good about the outdoor space they have.

"We're blessed with two parking lots here so we do have a lot of space and we plan on utilizing that and if we have to utilize the sidewalk in front too we're gonna do whatever we can really to make people feel comfortable," Dustin Tomasetti, the executive chef of Pickwick Restaurant.

These restaurants hope summer will bring more people out to eat and have been working hard on making changes to keep everyone safe, but say outdoor dining is going to be challenging.

“We're not going to make money off of it, that's really the truth of it. It's just at this point trying to cut losses and go forward," said Tomasetti. "We really have to take this as a bonus, you know, being able to sit 50 people outside. We have the means to be able to do that so we have to look at this as a positive and take what we can get at this point.”

“We’re just going to take it day by day and play it by ear to ensure the safety of our customers and staff and reopen it as best we can with as much capacity as possible,” said Moore.

Helmer said restaurants and bars have to go through an application process. For businesses interested, they are asked to call the city clerk's licensing team at 218-730-5500.

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