MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some restaurants are replacing “Closed” signs with signs that say “Now Hiring.” It’s offering hope and opportunity to an industry that’s taken a hard hit during the pandemic.

“There are a lot of people that are wanting to support businesses, wanting to support local,” Brittney Klass said.

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Klass opened a third concept in GRAZE Food Hall in Minneapolis’ North Loop. Last Drop Cafe, a coffee and wine bar, opens Wednesday.

“Even in turmoil, even in this turbulence, we can still produce,” Klass said.

It complements Soul Bowl and Bad Wingz; the latter also opened during the pandemic.

Klass says surprisingly staffing was their biggest challenge.

“Because so many people are kind of furloughed, and kind of on unemployment, and trying to figure out what is the next step for them,” Klass said.

With that piece behind them, she says she’s excited for what’s ahead.

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Meanwhile, a North Loop staple is expanding to the suburbs, and expanding their roster mid-summer. Smack Shack is taking its lobster-centric fare to Bloomington at 494 and France.

“It’s been tough in our industry, and it’s been sad to see restaurants close, however that gives an opportunity for places to kind of have a rebirth,” Chef Josh Thoma said.

Thoma said they’re designing the 10,000-square-foot space with distancing in mind. And he says, for them, it’s a good time to hire.

“The workforce was fairly tight, and now we have people that are actively seeking new jobs, and we have a much larger pool to choose from,” Thoma said.

Later this month, Pocket Square Cocktail Lounge will open in New Hope. The family- and friend-owned spot had a few timing setbacks, and is looking forward to hiring a few part-time bartenders to serve up distilled spirits in the owners hometown.

“We wanted to bring a cocktail room experience to where we all feel comfortable,” Amy Hotchkiss said.

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According to Hospitality Minnesota, employment numbers are still down in the industry, by about 100,000. But, there are signs of optimism with some restaurants hiring people back.

Jennifer Mayerle