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Real Estate Summit Addresses Hot Topics, including COVID-19

Brian Ingram

Moderator Peter Dugan, CBRE vice president, kicked off the Retail & Restaurant Summit, hosted by the Minnesota RE Journal in early March, with what was hot right now in the Twin Cities and Rochester, but the topic that drew the most interest early in the program was how restaurants were going to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The one question Irv Cohen, an advisor and partner at North Risk Partners, is constantly asked by clients is: “Irv, am I covered?” And when it comes to Coronavirus, the answer is “no,” he told attendees. “There’s a big hole in everyone’s (insurance) coverage” when it comes to something unpredictable, like the current COVID-19, just like several years ago when businesses were affected by the terrorist attacks. 

He had slightly better news for restaurateurs when it came to their liability if workers come in contact with the virus at work. The question here, he said, is: “Did your work site contribute to this outcome?” In most likelihood, if you’re following rigorous cleaning and handwashing protocols and being vigilant about sick employees staying away, you can’t be blamed. Landlords also need to think about how they’re going to handle potential liability due to multiple businesses sharing their spaces, which could spread the virus.  

Restaurateur Brian Ingram weighed in during the second panel’s discussion on issues affecting the restaurant community by saying it’s a new playing field. “In the old days it didn’t matter if you were dying, you came to work, now more people are using their sick time,” he said—which is a good thing. Minneapolis and St. Paul have two of the most generous paid sick leave laws in the country, according to the Workplace Fairness Organization.

The fear factor has changed the restaurant social media experience, as well: “Now people are showing posts on social media, not of pictures of food, but pictures of employees wiping down things,” he said And being showy about your cleanliness is a good idea, such as letting guests see you wipe down hand-held tablets before you hand it to the next person to pay at the table and perhaps, even having sinks visible so that guests see the handwashing rituals of cooks and food handlers. 

We have exhibition kitchens, he quipped, why not extend that to hand washing? In other words, diners need to see more than just a sign in the restrooms instructing employees to wash their hands.

Some other notable trends from Ingram, who speaks both locally and nationally about the subject, are more restaurants going into smaller footprints and healthy eating An earlier speaker mentioned the rise of pop-ups, ghost kitchens and shared spaces in food halls. 

Since the younger generations want to support local businesses, Ingram and his partners are talking about how to make one of their brands, New Bohemia, look less like a chain. “People don’t check in on social media at an Applebee’s, but they will with a Gavin restaurant, he said referring to Gavin Kaysen’s three upscale restaurants, including Spoon and Stable.

Staying relevant is a constant battle, which makes it hard to be an institution. “Everyone’s wanting something new,” he said when asked about the recent closings of several established restaurants. 

But it’s not all alarming news. “Deals keep getting better and better here” for restaurant owners, Ingram said, and landlords are offering more incentives for restaurateurs with a proven track record. “The second something is closing, if you have a name, you get a call,” he said, “And the sweetheart deals start.”

And in the case of a restaurant that closed,”the work has been done, you don’t have to do the heavy lifting, just paint and a bit of remodeling.” 

Just be sure to wash your hands of any bad deals also out there. 

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