GRAND FORKS — A few area restaurants are looking to clean up on an otherwise grim situation by offering a roll of toilet paper to customers who place delivery orders.

The Spud Jr., in East Grand Forks, and Rhombus Guys, in downtown Grand Forks, have added a bit of levity to the situation caused by the spread of the coronavirus. With the Tuesday, March 17, mandate to close bars and restaurants to dine-in traffic by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, it can hopefully be a way to stay relevant and survive for The Spud Jr.

“I guess I’m coming up with everything, trying to be as creative I can get,” said Spud Jr. co-owner Justin LaRoque about the decision to send customers a roll of bath tissue. “Just to keep a little humor in the chaos.”

LaRoque said he has already sent out a few rolls and expects to do more in the near future. Keeping staff on hand to do the deliveries is a challenge, though.

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“It's just kind of a whirlwind with staff, not knowing who's gonna show up, who's kind of worried about getting sick and all that,” said LaRoque, adding he has a core dedicated staff of two managers, himself and his two younger brothers at the establishment. A part-time employee who has a full-time job elsewhere volunteered to do the deliveries.

But it isn’t all for the paying customers. Laroque said his business has received a number of donations, some monetary from local residents, others in the form of bulk food from restaurant suppliers. Earlier this week, The Spud Jr. began providing free meals for schoolchildren, who may not have access to meals because of school closures in Minnesota and North Dakota. He later extended those free meals to anyone in need.

“No questions asked, and you don’t even have to say anything,” said LaRoque, standing next to about 20 cases of vitamin water donated by Coca-Cola.

Restaurants are sure to be taking a big hit to their bottom lines during a time of uncertainty caused by the spread of the virus. So why stay open?

“Hearing some of these stories from people, it’s heartbreaking,” said LaRoque. “If there’s anything we can do to continue even helping one person, I think that’s what we’ll do.”

In Grand Forks restaurants can remain open, though Gov. Doug Burgum earlier this week cautioned people against patronizing restaurants over concerns of spreading the coronavirus. At Rhombus Guys downtown, the idea to give away a free roll of toilet paper was, like LaRoque’s, to have a little fun in a not very fun time.

“Obviously, the whole story at the beginning of the week goes there is no toilet paper anywhere in this town except for at 6 a.m. and at midnight,” said bartender/server Jesse Iverson. “So (the owners) said, ‘We just ought 300 cases of toilet paper. … Why not put one in with our delivery?’”

Iverson said the toilet paper/food deliveries began Tuesday, March 17. He said the restaurant has periods of dead hours, though there are still bigger rushes of customers. Deliveries have picked up a bit in response to concerns over the coronavirus.

How long will the toilet paper deliveries last?

“Until we run out,” LaRoque said.

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