ST PAUL, Minn. — Summit Brewing founder Mark Stutrud takes a lot of pride in the "Ratskeller," the name of his German-influenced public beer hall on Montreal Circle.
"That's the heart and soul of inviting people to the brewery," Stutrud said. "It's a place to gather."
But with COVID-19 and the omicron variant spreading so rapidly, Summit Brewing decided Thursday to put the Ratskeller on pause.
To keep staff healthy and preserve the production side of the brewery, which fuels the vast majority of the revenue, Summit has closed the beer hall temporarily but will reevaluate the move in two weeks based on hospitalizations and case data.
"One of the things we get concerned about is," Stutrud said, "if this new variant rages through the brewery, the last thing we want to experience is to have to shut down our operations."
It's another frustrating twist for Summit Brewing Company, almost two full years into this pandemic.
"It's like a never-ending story. We don't get to the end of the plot," Stutrud said. "The hospitality industry, it is so unpredictable out there right now."
Staffing remains a huge challenge.
According to the most recent state data shared with KARE 11 by Hospitality Minnesota, the industry is down about 22,000 jobs over the past two years compared to Nov. 2019, and a fall survey showed that 87 percent of hospitality operators in Minnesota describe labor availability as "tight."
And that was before the Omicron variant disrupted the workforce.
Brian Ingram, owner of Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul, said he has ordered $10,000 worth of rapid tests for his staff after positive results forced him to close his locations for a short time between Christmas and New Year's.
"We shut down for three days. We needed time to get people tested," Ingram said. "And you saw it across the metro. There were just so many restaurants you saw do this right before New Year's."
Ingram's restaurants have since reopened.
Many others, meanwhile, are forging ahead in 2022 with new policies -- like vaccine or negative test requirements, which Modist Brewing in Minneapolis announced Thursday. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul now also have mask mandates again, per orders by mayors Jacob Frey and Melvin Carter.
When Mark Stutrud reassesses the status of his Ratskeller in a few weeks at Summit Brewing, he hopes the outlook will look much brighter.
"We made the best decision we could, with the data that we had," Stutrud said. "And you've gotta live with it -- but then you've got to move forward."
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