Friday, January 21, 2022

Impact of COVID: Car travel is gaining momentum as customers seek alternatives to in-person dining.

Van Harvieux doesn’t worry about ambiance, tip or parking.

Every visitor to his restaurant is driving. No one goes inside, no one sits down and no one spoils his tables.

“For me, COVID has been very difficult and very positive,” Harvieu said as he passed the order through the Mudslingers Drive-Thru Coffee window in Roseville.

The pandemic was brutal for all restaurants in Minnesota. But those with windows that pass through the windows have an advantage. Businesses working on the roadway have been steadily moving forward, even as many sit-down restaurants have closed.


The suburbs are seeing a spike in the construction of new thoroughfares, including fast food chains and cafes. This is due in part to a 2019 ban on new cars in Minneapolis – before COVID-19 made them a popular sector of the restaurant industry.

“Minneapolis may have stopped doing this too early,” said Liz Rammer, CEO of the Minnesota Hospitality restaurant group.

The full-service U.S. restaurant category fell 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to QSR Magazine. But according to the New York Times, fast food attendance is up 30 percent compared to March 2020 and March 2019.

Rammer said the aftermath of COVID has split the restaurant industry.

“Right now, this is a mixed picture,” she said.

Restaurants are also plagued by supply chain disruptions, rising food prices, labor shortages, and ongoing fears of wearing masks.


Half of all Minnesota restaurants couldn’t pay their rent in November. Rammer said, “You don’t have to look far to see many wounds.”

But when driving through the car, the pain is not felt so much.

They have proven to be so successful that some companies are experimenting with in-store food concepts.

Four lanes for cars will enter the new Taco Bell Defy restaurant, which opens in Brooklyn Center next summer. The kitchen on the second floor will drop orders in small elevators to customers below.

The Caribou Coffee experimental circuit opens at Cottage Grove this month. This small building, dubbed Caribou, will have no seating.

Woodbury now has 17 passing restaurants. Some are on the sites of dead sit-down restaurants such as Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, which used to be Craft Beer & Kitchen, and the planned Starbucks on the site of the former famous Dave’s.


Barista Marissa Egli (left) and Megan Nichols prepare drinks at Mudslingers Drive-Thru Coffee in Roseville. (Emily Urfer / Pioneer Press)

Unlike Minneapolis, Woodbury welcomes travel cards. Senior city planner Eric Searles sees no competition with sit-down restaurants.

“There is a clear need for both. These are different needs, ”Searles said.

Searles said car access benefits the whole area by generating traffic, so more drivers are aware of nearby businesses.

At the Mudslingers on November 18, owner Harvier didn’t look like he was in pain. In fact, he amused himself by shoveling coffee drinks out of the two driveways as quickly as his two baristas could get them.

“On weekends, the queues go into the parking lot and onto the road,” he said, pausing to give a customer on the bike a cappuccino.

He started the business in 2015, unaware that the pandemic would help his business succeed.

He still has problems, but money is not one of them. He has cut his working hours by 30 percent due to labor shortages and worries about supply chain problems. COVID could make its workers sick at any time, even if they all wear masks in a crowded store.

But business has never been better and Harvier is enjoying every minute.

“I love the relationship you can build through this window,” he said as he handed the client a latte. “When people come to have coffee, they are always happy.”

Nation World News Desk
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