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Local restaurants complied with orders to close their doors, but amidst all the chaos the Cambridge Bar & Grill is one of many businesses that have made the transition to curbside service.

For owner Sean Okerlund, accepting the idea of closing his doors was a struggle, but the idea to continue service curbside in front of the bar was a no-brainer.

“I get what they’re trying to do by ordering everyone to close, limiting the movement and contact, but it’s killing the industry,” Okerlund said. “It’s our goal to keep employees working and off the unemployment system.”

Okerlund, who’s owned the bar for almost five years, didn’t have any idea when he opened his doors that he should have a backup plan in place for a pandemic that would shut down the community, so this process has been a learning experience.

“Who would’ve thought anything like this would ever happen, so no, I didn’t have a plan for this,” Okerlund said. “We just take it one day at a time and learn as we go.”

The ability to offer curbside service has been well accepted by customers, but doesn’t quite make up for the lost business from closing the doors for Okerlund, his staff and others that are involved in the operation.

“As of right now, look at it from a business point of view, we have to keep up with the fast food industry, but it’s much more than that,” Okerlund said. “The fast food places, the liquor stores and the big box stores are busy, people are buying them out, but for the rest of us, we are hurting.

“There’s also the trickle-down effect; our beer distributors, our employees, the people that provide the services that keep us operational, are all facing a drastic downturn; it’s everybody,” Okerlund added.

In an attempt to continue to support staff, Okerlund offered the option of limited hours to staff, and went from 16 employees down to 10 for the first week. With business continuing to stay steady he’s been able to bring five more employees back to work.

“We kept all of the employees that didn’t have other jobs, the gals that did have other jobs said to give their hours to those who needed them. Everyone is just trying to do what they can to come out the other end of this,” Okerlund said. “It only lasted about a week that we had to decrease staff so much, then since business continued to increase we were able to bring back more of our staff.”

Service with a side of necessity

Watching the mass chaos ensue, over toilet paper and the lack of its availability, Okerlund devised a plan to provide necessary items to his customers.

“A friend on Facebook had posted that it was her birthday and that she was out of toilet paper,” Okerlund said. “She came in the bar that day, the last day we were open and had to close by 5 p.m., and I grabbed a roll of toilet paper and threw it at her and said happy birthday.”

It was that act of kindness, and the friend’s response, that started Okerlund’s act of kindness, offering a free roll of toilet paper on orders over $25.

“I got ahold of my commercial distributor and asked if it was possible to order a bunch of toilet paper,” Okerlund said. “It wasn’t an issue to order, so that’s what we did, and now we are able to help out the community and put a smile on other people’s faces too. I never thought a roll of toilet paper would put such a big smile on someone’s face,”

Since then the story has been picked up by local news stations, CNN, MSN, CBS Local in New York City, New York, and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show; and most recently a New York radio station called the bar for a live on-air interview — all because of a roll of toilet paper.

Since Tuesday, March 17, at 5 p.m., the bar has gone through over 300 rolls, and counting.

Orders can be placed by calling the Cambridge Bar & Grill, 763-689-4052, Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Curbside orders can be from the entire menu, which can be found at www.cambridgebarandgrill.com.

“We only have one phone line, and no call waiting, so sometimes it takes people a few tries to get through, but we are doing our best. All of our cooking is done on a little 36-inch grill and that’s full a lot of times,” Okerlund said. “People have been so patient as we try to make sure all orders are received and brought out to them. This has been a good experience, despite the situation.”

Most recently the Cambridge Bar & Grill food truck is headed out to the Isanti County Fairgrounds with a limited menu, beginning this week, and the plan, according to Okerlund, is to be out there from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

For updated information, follow Cambridge Bar & Grill on Facebook.

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