PLYMOUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — Bars and restaurants welcomed the announcement from Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday to end all COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks and months, a new step forward for Minnesota as it moves closer to life after the pandemic.

Stephan Hesse, who owns several restaurants across the Twin Cities metro including Lucky’s 13 pubs, hopes the dial back will bring good fortune to his business during a tumultuous year, especially for his industry that’s endured significant layoffs, shutdowns and changes to operation.

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“People happy to go out again is really what we need. Money is one thing and getting sales is another but getting people back to feeling comfortable is the main goal,” Hesse said. “It’s been a long year and half for everyone and having this stuff lifted is awesome. People want to get back.”

(credit: CBS)

“It can only go up from here.”

Starting Friday, capacity limits for restaurants, bars and outdoor venues lift and masks are only required for groups of larger than 500 people outside. The 11 p.m. curfew also ends, according to phase one of the plan the governor revealed Thursday.

But the most significant change, Hesse said, will come May 28 when indoor capacity limits and distancing requirements end. Previous dial backs that have bumped seating from 50% to 75% haven’t made much of a difference because only so many tables fit in a space when they are kept six feet apart.

The hospitality industry has been pushing for these changes—and a timeline to give businesses a heads up of what’s coming—for months.

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“Over the past 60 weeks, hospitality operators and workers have done everything that’s been asked of them and sacrificed much to keep their fellow Minnesotans safe,” said Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, in a statement. “With today’s welcome announcement, brighter days are ahead as our citizens and communities can come back together to discover what they’ve been craving for – connectedness and hospitality.”

Newly vaccinated Amy Anderson of St. Louis Park met a friend at Lucky’s 13 in Plymouth on Thursday to soak up the nice weather while eating on a patio. She said while Minnesotans still need to be a little more patient, she believes that the state is ready to take the step forward.

“We are coming up to a really good time of year for Minnesota,” she said. “It’s good to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we are coming to a good celebration.”

As of Thursday, 59% of people 16 or older have at least one dose of the vaccine. At 70%, the state mask mandate will lift, Walz said, but no later than July 1. Fewer than 500,000 people need to get their shot to reach that mark and Anderson said that benchmark could work as an incentive.

More than 2 million Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

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A July 1 end date for all restrictions means the long-awaited return Minnesota State Fair appears likely. Walz said last week that it should be a “pretty close to normal” event.

Caroline Cummings