Local restaurants tackle vaccine mandates for dine-in


Gracie Ellsworth, Features Editor

A new mandate requiring restaurant and bar patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within​​​​ the last​​ 72 hours went into effect this past Wednesday in St. Paul and Minneapolis. The mandate was made through a joint decision by the city mayors. 

This mandate follows in the footsteps of other cities across the country who have passed similar policies in recent months since the rise of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases. Some Minneapolis bars and restaurants have sued Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey over the policy, while others have switched to takeout only. 

For some restaurants around campus, the mandate has been met with lukewarm responses. Around lunchtime on the Monday following the policy’s implementation, the tables were all empty except for one diner at the Italian Pie Shoppe, a pizza restaurant on Grand Avenue. Owner Katie Wann said that since the mandate went into effect, she has seen a significant decrease in customer traffic. 

“My servers don’t want to work because they’re not making the tip income that they’re used to,” Wann said. “I’ve had only a fraction of the tables that we’re used to.” 

Pad Thai, located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Cambridge Street, has been confronted with similar challenges. According to restaurant manager and server Katelyn Phetnongphay, since the pandemic began they have seen a couple of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and have had trouble finding new servers to hire. 

This past Tuesday night, only a couple of diners filled the tables in the windowed corner restaurant. While take-out has increased somewhat, Phetnongphay attributes the significant drop of in-person diners to the vaccine mandate. Staff have also turned away a number of customers who did not have the proper documentation. 

“I personally hope in 2022 everything gets better and dine-in becomes busy again so I can support my family and so the restaurant has more money coming in,” Phetnongphay wrote in a text message to The Mac Weekly

According to Emel Sherzad ’89, owner of the local Afghan cuisine spot Khyber Pass Cafe, last week’s vaccine mandate has had little effect on business, as the restaurant switched to curbside pickup-only at the very beginning of the pandemic and has remained so ever since. A Macalester alumn himself, Sherzad runs Khyber Pass with his wife Masooda Sherzad. 

While they considered re-opening in the summer when COVID-19 cases were lower, the challenge of finding staff kept the warm and inviting dining room of the cafe closed, something that Sherzad said he is now glad for. So far, they have avoided an outbreak among their staff and have weathered the past two years backed by loyal customers. 

“The community has been very supportive, and I think to some extent, they also appreciate the fact that we have played it safe,” Sherzad said. “When this first started I did not think that this would be long-lived, but it’s pretty amazing that people are still ordering from us regularly.”

Sherzad said that while he doesn’t know yet when the Khyber Pass Cafe will reopen for in-person dining, he looks forward to the return of guests and resuming traditions like the live music they hosted in the evenings before the arrival of COVID-19. 

“I do think people are getting impatient for us to open again,” Sherzad said. “We are too, but we are just waiting to see how things develop.”

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