FARGO — Sweeping restrictions on the restaurant industry have called for area eateries to implement stringent measures.

As of March 17, all bars and restaurants in Minnesota were closed for in-door dining by Gov. Tim Walz due to the coronavirus outbreak. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said the decision to close restaurants should be left to the private sector.

As restaurants in Minnesota, California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington and Ohio have already been ordered to shut down, Fargo area restaurants are taking extra precautions and staying open, although some have moved to drive thru or delivery only.

At Pizza Ranch, 4480 23rd Ave. S. in Fargo, a conference call went out to leadership and staff March 13 with directives and precautions for safety.

In the restaurant industry, Pizza Ranch Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Achterhoff said there are natural, standard, built-in operating procedures to protect people.

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“Most of our standard operating procedures fall right in line,” Achterhoff said. “We’re just reenforcing them, and actually doubling down on them.”

Workers are consistently disinfecting surfaces in the food preparation area, as well as the main dining areas, with peroxide-based cleaners, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments.

“It does kill all flu viruses, including the coronavirus,” Achterhoff said.

High-touch areas, such as door handles, soda fountains and buffet utensils, are aggressively cleaned, he said, and gloves are required by front-of-house staff, as well as in food preparation. Frequent hand washing is also encouraged by both employees and guests.

“There’s no substitute for hand washing,” he said.

Pizza Ranch, which also has a location in Dilworth, is offering a limited-time free delivery option through their online ordering website. Achterhoff said this is specifically designed to serve their customers in Minnesota, where pick up and delivery-only are now some of the only options for restaurants, although it will also be available to North Dakotans.

Achterhoff said it’s not a food-borne illness, it’s passed person-to-person, and he said Pizza Ranch staff are not allowed to come in with any signs of flu.

“It feels like every day we’re getting new information, so our company has literally formed a coronavirus task force,” he said.

Operations director-level staff regularly reviews updates and procedures to “make sure that we have an extremely clean and disinfected restaurant.”

Over at Granite City Food and Brewery, 1636 42nd St. S. in Fargo, eat-in dining has been suspended as of March 17, hours have been reduced to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and they’re one of several area eateries offering free lunch for kids who are off school for at least five days in the wake of Gov. Burgum closing down classrooms.

Manager Mallory Stier said kids who need lunch can have a free turkey sandwich, apple sauce, chips and juice box, while supplies last.

“With the response we’re seeing, I’m afraid we’re going to run out of product,” Stier said.

When she posted the announcement via Facebook the evening of March 15, Stier said 15,000 people had viewed the message by 10 p.m. On the morning of March 16, the number had already climbed to 50,000.

“We’re overwhelmed by the response,” she said.

Stier said curb-side pick up, as well as home delivery options through various apps, are available, even though the dining area has been shut down. Should the apps stop delivering food, she said, they've contemplated doing it themselves. Only time will tell.

Julie Wagendorf, director of food and lodging for the North Dakota Department of Health, said common sense is the best guideline.

“Cleaning’s never going to be a bad idea,” Wagendorf said.

That means cleaning above and beyond standard protocols, and she pointed out the standard cleaning products can be used, nothing special is required.

High-touch surfaces, as well as food contact surfaces, should be cleaned on a consistent basis: Light switches, soda fountain stations, table tops, door knobs, faucets, keyboards, buzzer pagers, condiment dispensers, registers and keyboards.

Employees with signs of fever or flu should stay at home, and remain there until a minimum of 24 hours after their symptoms pass, she said.

“That’s the biggest message right now for restaurants,” Wagendorf said.

The Department of Health has also issued more specific guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, she said, and those can be found at www.health.nd.gov/diseases-conditions/coronavirus.

With the situation changing daily, sometimes hourly, it leaves a veil of uncertainty in almost every sector of life, not the least for those who earn their living from restaurant work.

Super Buffet, 1000 45th St. S. in Fargo, which specializes in Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian fare, owner Henry Guo said they’ve put extra hand sanitizer out for customers and employees, and they’re systematically cleaning surfaces and handles on buffet serving ladles constantly. Staff who show any signs of sickness are not allowed to come in, he said.

“And all the staff, they know to wash their hands the minute they come through the door,” Guo said. “It’s the first thing to do.”

Even with precautions, business is down an estimated 30% from the same time last year.

Guo said the virus is hard to control and he understands how people feel.

“People are kind of scared,” Guo said. “We’re scared, too.”

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