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Above: Owner Jay Soule likened the seven yachts at Al & Alma’s to “floating restaurants.” With outdoor dining resumed as of June 1, the yachts’ passenger lists topped out at 25 percent their usual capacity. A june 5 executive order from Gov. Tim Walz now allows restaurants to seat up to 50 percent of their regular occupancy, including indoor seating. That order took effect June 10. (Submitted photo) 

Jay Soule, owner of Al & Alma’s in Mound, said the decision to push out from shore was pretty straightforward: “We’re about making people happy.”

In normal times—read: not the year 2020—a commercially operated boat that sees its passenger list cut to just 25 percent capacity before setting sail might be the surest way to red ink.

But on June 1, that first day of resumed outdoor dining in Minnesota, the yachts at Al & Alma’s were set to leave the dock at just such capacity and much in the name of keeping Lake Minnetonka locals happy—and healthy, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardly a big money-maker for Al & Alma’s but that was hardly the point, and that little detail didn’t mean it wouldn’t be completely worth it, said Soule, who summed things up by saying, “I mean, it’s what we do” before expanding to add, “It’s the best cruising we’ve ever offered, hands down. That doesn’t mean it’s the most profitable, but it’s the best product we’ve offered.”

To be one of 30-some passengers on a boat that would usually accomodate 149 may be as near to private dining atop Lake Minnetonka as could ever be had.

For good or bad, not everything lasts, and just four days after those initial dinners on the water, Gov. Tim Walz announced a further loosening of restrictions, which took effect June 10.

That recent order, signed June 5, allows restaurants to reopen to indoor dining at up to 50 percent capacity; reservations are still required under the new order.

It also means the passenger list just doubled for each of Al & Alma’s seven yachts, including its largest, the Bella Vista, which has more than 170 seats and is licensed to host 149 guests. It will under the new order be able accommodate 75 people, said Soule.

“All seven of our boats in our fleet are licensed and inspected to run and we are hoping that we will see them all off the dock at the same time,” he said, and added that “Our tables on the boats have been reduced and moved, but we still have lots of space and are one of the best ways to gather since most of our seating is outside in the open air.”

Soule said that Al & Alma’s has “rolled with all the changes” as executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic began issuing from the governor’s office earlier this spring. The restaurant was quick to offer carry-out service, and its staff had indicated from the first that they didn’t want to close completely. “We never missed a day,” said Soule.

Soule said that he and restaurant staff have worked within the lines of each executive order that has come out, from that first one in March that closed down indoor dining to the ones that since then have allowed for a gradual reopen. “Being on the water, the nature is that everything is ship-shape—and now more than ever.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Reservations for cruises at Al & Alma’s are now by the table, not the seat, and the buffet has been removed for now; pricing of menu packages has also been adjusted. “Each of our boats is a licensed patio, a floating restaurant,” said Soule.

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