Dinkytown business owners battle ongoing issues related to COVID-19

The rise in Omicron cases, short staffing and unpredictability in the neighborhood are some of the obstacles that businesses are facing.

The neon signs of Annies Parlour in Dinkytown hang dark on Saturday, March 21.

Image by Kamaan Richards

The neon signs of Annies Parlour in Dinkytown hang dark on Saturday, March 21.

by Karisa Erickson

Business owners in Dinkytown continue to face the challenges of COVID-19 outbreaks, staffing shortages and crime as they head into the new year.

COVID-19 has forced many businesses to make decisions on how they can remain operating. Recent changes include the upcoming opening of Bober Tea and Mochi Dough in the business space where Umami Fries was, along with the arrival of Tiger Sugar in December.

Kent Kramp, owner of Dinkytown Raising Cane’s and vice president of the Dinkytown Business Alliance, said that operating a business in a college town during a pandemic has been tough. Dinkytown mainstays such as Annie’s Parlour and the Kitty Cat Klub have not reopened since March of 2020, and newcomers such as Umami Fries closed within less than two years of moving to town.

“Losing the students [last school year] was difficult,” Kramp said.

Annie’s Parlour gives an update
One constant in Dinkytown has been the closure of Annie’s Parlour and the Kitty Cat Klub. The two Dinkytown staples have been closed since March 2020.

“We won’t be reopening until we feel comfortable to be able to staff the place and to see that the case numbers are down,” said John Rimarcik, who owns both establishments along with a handful of other restaurants in Minneapolis.

Rimarcik said he expected both Annie’s and the Kitty Cat Klub to be reopened by now, but there is no set return date.

“Last time [my restaurants] closed we lost about $80,000 worth of food,” Rimarcik said. “That doesn’t mean that we threw it away, we gave it to shelters and places, but it’s a tough thing.”

Rimarcik said his main difficulty is finding managers and staff, which has been a common problem among restaurants across the state. Hospitality Minnesota conducted a study in fall of 2021 that found that 87% of hospitality workers in the state described their labor ability as “tight.”

Businesses work through a rise in a crime and COVID-19 cases
Wally Sakallah, owner of Wally’s Falafel and Hummus and Hideaway, said crime is another challenge of operating a business in Dinkytown. There was an increase in violent crime in Minneapolis from 2020 to 2021, which was reflected in Dinkytown.

In the past, Wally said his business’s tip jar was stolen. Sakallah said that he typically hires security guards for Wally’s and Hideaway but has been unable to since the start of the pandemic.

Business owners say they have had to watch COVID-19 trends in order to know when it’s safe to open for dine-in. Al’s Breakfast was able to continue operations throughout the pandemic by quickly shifting to takeout, owner Alison Kirwin said. Takeout wasn’t profitable on its own but PPP loans and restaurant revitalization grants allowed them to stay afloat.

“In normal times, being in Dinkytown really is an asset with such a high concentration of students,” Kirwin said. “[COVID-19] outbreaks like this really make a dent in our business.”

Al’s started exclusively offering takeout early in the pandemic and reopened in-person dining in July 2021. Due to an COVID-19 outbreak among staff, it closed for a few days this month, which was the first time the restaurant had to fully shut down due to COVID-19.

“Business owners and the people that operate Dinkytown have operated under pretty stressful conditions over the last 24 months,” said Kramp from the Dinkytown Business Alliance. “But there’s a lot of resilience, and there’s a lot of people that are really excited.”