The outside of the White Horse restaurant and bar in downtown St. Cloud. Photo credit: Matthew Auvil
On Oct. 19, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan visited the St. Cloud area on her Small Business Listening Tour. This tour goes across the state of Minnesota visiting small businesses and farms to listen to the owners and to employees about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them.
Flanagan stopped at the White Horse Bar in downtown St. Cloud to talk with owner Jackie Lee and to Representative Dan Wolgamott of District 14B about the restaurant and what changes have been made in response to the pandemic.
“My first priority is to keep my employees, customers, and the community safe,” said Lee. “I was adamant about that from the beginning.”
Lee then pointed out the changes that had to be made including the separators at tables, extra cleaning supplies, curb side pickup on food orders, and enforcing a mask for those eating inside the restaurant. Lee notes that the mask mandate has not caused any major issues in the restaurant and that the mandates also help keep things clean.
Lee told Flanagan that the support from customers in this tough time had been extremely loyal.
“During the take out only orders in the beginning we had so much support and heard so many nice things from customers throughout this time,” explained Lee.
Lee then told Flanagan that some customers who could not make it to the restaurant were even giving her checks just to show appreciation and to give back to the restaurant even if they couldn’t be there to eat or get drinks at the bar.
Lee had mentioned that the forgiveness loans were extremely appreciative and the grants she had applied for had been wonderful the restaurant.
The White Horse has not received any local funding through the city of St. Cloud or the county, but Lee said she had applied for the Initiative Foundation and other grants and did not hear back on any of those.
While business and the loans and grants have been great for the restaurant, Lee said she wants to prepare more for the winter as the temperatures drop and the snow begins to fall. The capacity of the restaurant and bar is at half, hours of operation have changed, and labor costs have been cut.
Flanagan told Lee that there needs to be more advocating towards the congressional delegation and to the people in Washington D.C. that more additional funding should be made for local restaurants and business to get through the winter months.
Lee said normally in the winter business wouldn’t be too bad with the Paramount Theater being right down the street. but because of COVID-19, it changes how things will look.
“Without [the Paramount], with no performances … it’s going to be really different,” explained Lee.
Wolgamott took time to point out the the resilience of the White Horse during the pandemic and how strong they have been throughout this time.
“[The White Horse] right away got creative with the curb side delivery system and getting that set up,” said Wolgamott. “The White Horse is a staple of this community and so many restaurants across the state are the heart and soul and character of their communities as well.”
Lee is familiar with hardships, the White Horse opened during the recession in March of 2008, but did not imagine anything like that would happen again.
“Those first couple of years were very hard, but I tell you what, it is almost harder now,” said Lee.
When asked by Wolgamott what other things he and Flanagan should know about during this uncertain time and as winter approaches, Lee told them to remember that small businesses are struggling and may continue to struggle as the months go on.
“We are struggling and [the White Horse] is a family business,” said Lee. “It is really hard and we do want to stay in the area because we know we have loyal customers that think we are pretty good.”
Lee said she would rather operate safely than to open up and try and go back to the way things used to be because right now, it is the right thing to do.
Flanagan admired Lee’s enthusiasm with how she is operating the restaurant and said she admires how Lee is working through this with her staff.
Flanagan brought up how important it is to continue wearing a mask, that it can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, whether it is going out to a restaurant or even just going to the store.
“If people would consistently wear masks for about three to four weeks we would really get a hold on this [Coronavirus] and we want things to open back up,” explained Flanagan.
Wolgamott added that families going out to restaurants and other places can’t just pretend things are going to go back to normal because there could then be a reversal in stopping the spread and causing more cases.
Lee closed with hopeful remarks saying the restaurant will adapt and work forward as the winter begins and as the pandemic continues.
“My mantra in the beginning was ‘It could be worse and it can’t last forever,'” shared Lee. “I had it written up on my chalkboard.”