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In the wreckage of Minnesota's restaurant industry, hope remains

BMTN food writer Lindsay Guentzel's return to restaurants has been cut jarringly short.

Our food writer Lindsay Guentzel is one of the thousands of restaurants workers who were laid off last week following the shutdown of dining-in services. She wrote about her experience over the last week, and how her former employer is giving her hope and a sense of community as she navigates the new normal. You can learn more about Lindsay and her love of food by visiting her website. 

Every day at 2:20 p.m., I get in my car and drive to the restaurant I used to work at. I wait outside, usually with a few of my former coworkers. We all practice safe social distancing, catching up with each other across the concrete walkway that leads into the building we’re currently not allowed to go in.

There’s a long table stretched out in front of the lobby doors. It’s where the customers pick up their takeout. It’s also where I pick up my dinner, every day between 2:30pm and 3:00pm. For the last week, the management team at my former employer has been putting together meals for employees and their families. All I do is email them the day before – Lindsay Guentzel, 2 adults, gluten sensitivity – and the family-style meal is ready to go for me when I show up the next afternoon.

I walk up, a manager sees me through the doors and they bring out my bag. There’s always small talk. How are you holding up? How are takeout orders going? Did you see Governor Walz’s latest press conference? It’s usually very brief. Social distancing, remember. So I’ll collect my bag from the long black table, get in my car and drive the 15 minutes back home.

It’s so much more than a meal.

I started at 6Smith in Wayzata the Tuesday after the Super Bowl. So just six weeks before Governor Walz ordered Minnesota restaurants to shut down dining-in operations. I have to tell you, I was hesitant about getting back into the service industry. Thanks to lots of unpaid internships and low-paying gigs, I always had a serving job. It was the only way I could make ends meet. It wasn’t until I was hired as a full-time producer at WCCO Radio that I gave it up. I was over the juggle.

But after leaving radio a year ago, I struggled to find a job that was flexible enough to allow me to pursue my dream job. See, someday I want my own show on the Food Network and so to help me get better at cooking on television, I collaborate with a lot of stations in town. I pitch an idea (Slow Cookers! Healthy Side Dishes! Gluten-Free Desserts!), work up some recipes, and pack a ton of food, kitchen gadgets and utensils into a basket before hauling off across town (the real professionals have carts). I don’t get paid to do these. In fact, I actually spend a decent amount on food for the recipes so every segment – while a great opportunity – is an investment for me.

I really liked working at 6Smith. The people who work there really love food. One of my goals with getting back into the industry was to pursue an apprenticeship in the kitchen after I got my feet under me. In the days leading up to the shutdown, I’d actually been working up the courage to float the idea by our executive chef. I’d even cleared two days from my schedule to hold these unpaid shifts. My pitch was ready.

Then the announcement came and like thousands of Minnesotans, my job was gone and my plan was on hold – indefinitely.

Find more recipes from Lindsay Guentzel

The uncertainty is the hardest part. The uncertainty of what it means when we move passed this. What restaurants open back up, what percentage of staff gets hired back, what a working restaurant even looks like after the Coronavirus. The what-ifs are a terrible place to find yourself, especially when your entire calendar has just opened up for the foreseeable future.

In the midst of a pretty scary time, it’s so much more than dinner on our table. It is security and compassion and a thoughtful reminder that we are not alone.

Every takeout bag contains a message, sometimes written in permanent marker, sometimes typed on paper. It says, we are in this together.

Minnesota restaurants need your help. While you can, order takeout. Get delivery. Give that restaurant that didn’t wow you the first time a second chance. The food community in Minnesota is so incredibly special, we need to do everything we can to make sure as much of it survives.

Because it is so much more than a meal. 

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