MINTO, N.D. — As soon as you drive into downtown Minto, you're immediately greeted by two staples: the Harvey Avenue Saloon and Beaver's Cafe.

Steve Novak is the man keeping both ships upright, as he's both the captain and a crew member, steering the ships into a new normal after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in 13 counties, including Walsh, by Gov. Doug Burgum last week.

"(Going) back to normal, that's what you want," Novak said. "And there's been a lot of pain, a lot of pain."

Novak said the cafe mostly survived on takeout meals during the first part of the pandemic, but he still needed help from the Paycheck Protection Program, which he got in the form of a $10,000 loan back in March.

"That helped us out for about a month and a half, then after that the money ran out pretty fast," he said.

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As the state's COVID restrictions slowly lifted, Novak slowly saw more traffic come into both the saloon and the cafe.

Two bar customers at the Harvey Avenue Saloon in Minto, N.D., chat over a couple of drinks on Monday, Sept. 7. Derek Murray / WDAY
Two bar customers at the Harvey Avenue Saloon in Minto, N.D., chat over a couple of drinks on Monday, Sept. 7. Derek Murray / WDAY

After Burgum announced Walsh County would be a part of the new normal, Novak saw double the traffic from past Labor Day weekends, including 50 customers on Sunday, Sept. 6.

"For a Sunday on Labor Day (weekend), that's huge," he said.

Novak said the cafe's salad bar, a pre-pandemic hit with customers, will now be open when the cafe opens Tuesday, Sept. 8, as part of the new guidelines.

Since there's still the possibility of going up in risk level, Novak said he won't blame people if they want to take extra measures to stay safe.

"If you feel that you're scared about what's going on out there, feel free to wear a mask," he said. "If you want to come into my establishments, feel free to wear a mask."

Novak's businesses will make it out of their financial holes, and he said he's willing to help out those that won't.

"If you've got a strong community like we have here, we're going to survive, because we all work together," he said. "We're all intertwined."

He said the sense of togetherness is more important now than ever, as the small-town community moves through the rest of the pandemic.