After-Hours Atrophy

After-Hours Atrophy

When no one’s out late, late-night commerce struggles.

The Covid-19 pandemic has uprooted many traditions. One of them is dinner after an evening on the town. Purveyors of after-hours grub say the pandemic and ongoing civil unrest have left people’s dining-out days ending at sunset.

The Nicollet Diner, the only 24-hour eatery in Minneapolis, now closes its seating area between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., though takeout is still available. Co-owner Sam Turner says the overnight closure is a precaution due to the threat of civil unrest and the overall diminished safety situation in the area.

Turner notes that he’s made up some of the lost revenue with third-party delivery services. But there’s an increased cost. In August alone, Turner estimates he’s spent more than $2,000 on containers that meet the city’s biodegradability regulations.

Meanwhile, Hardtimes Café, the scrappy worker-owned vegetarian restaurant in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, has had to pare down its after-hours offerings, too. The café used to operate 22 hours a day, seven days a week.

“When the bars and restaurants got shut down in March, we were closed. We weren’t even doing carryout orders or anything like that,” says Aeri Donovan, barista and co-owner.

The café didn’t resume even limited operations until August. As of mid-September, Hardtimes offered outdoor dining from 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. “We’ve really condensed our hours,” Donovan says.

And, like many restaurant operators, she and co-owners worry about the coming winter months.

Back at the Nicollet Diner, Turner says that civil unrest in downtown Minneapolis has been a strain on late-night business as well. “There are difficulties around closing a restaurant for curfew,” he says. “Unrest, curfews, and all that have really put a damper on business. … People are scared to come downtown.”

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The downturn comes as the cost of business continues to rise. Even pandemic ketchup is pricier, Turner says. Because of safety perceptions, no more ketchup bottles sit on the tables; instead, it’s costly individually packaged condiments.