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Another restaurant casualty, Porch and Boxcar Hippie closes, citing COVID and staff shortages

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- The Porch's kitchen was busy with take-out and carry-out tickets Monday afternoon, but it won't be busy much longer.

"It's extremely heartbreaking is all I can say, honestly," Porch and Boxcar Hippie co-owner Lindsay Zubay said. "It's really, really hard."

It's another Rochester restaurant casualty during the pandemic, The Porch and Boxcar Hippie are closing their doors for good on Sunday. Until then, both restaurants will only be open for take-out and carry-out.

"I was really surprised," customer Max Breon said. "They're usually pretty successful and popular. I see people here all the time. I bring my friends. When I heard they're closing, I was really surprised."

"It's sad losing a restaurant like them," customer John Doolittle said. "I'm not sure why they are going out of business."

Zubay compared it to putting a pet to sleep.

"You know it's heading that way, so for the betterment of your pet, you have to put it down," she said. "It doesn't mean that I want to see it happen. But, you have to do so."

In a Facebook post announcing the closure, Zubay and partner Justin Schoville cite COVID-19 and staffing shortages.

"It was an accumulation of a lot of different things. COVID didn't help. And we've been struggling since then," she said.

She said before the pandemic, her employees consisted of veteran servers. Post-pandemic, a lot of high school and college-aged people fill her staff roster, which makes it difficult when scheduling when school got started again. She says some days are better than others.

"On top of that, just the pandemic in general," Zubay continued. "Everyday somebody has a scare. or daycare can't be covered, or someone at daycare has a scare, someone at school has a scare. COVID definitely doesn't help. And then, of course, you have to wait for a negative test to come back."

It speaks to an issue small businesses across the country are facing. Not only has Zubay experienced it herself, but she sees it.

"I've seen a lot of signs in the window, 'sorry we're short-staffed.' Or, 'sorry, we're closing early today, not enough staff," she said.

Panera in Rochester has closed its dining room and cut its hours according to a sign posted on its front door. Dairy Queen in Stewartville has had to do the same.

"It seems like the little famous joints around here are getting closed up all over the place," Breon said. "And I just think it's really sad."

"We hate to see all these small businesses close down," Michele Bleskan said, while eating Boxcar Hippie outside. "At home, we're like, 'where should we eat? Oh, that's closed down.' Or, 'Oh, that's just take-out now.'"

Zubay says she's put a lot of heart into the space that's occupied the former train depot for the last five years. She pointed out the wood used on a bar that was a part of a farmhouse on her mother's side, blown-up photos she took herself and fondly recalls decorating tables with staff.

"It's really hard to say goodbye," she said. "It's extremely personnel when you put your own personal touch. It started as just another building and it's something we put our hearts into when it's not going to be there anymore."

Zubay encourages customers to support their other restaurants, Hot Chip and Mr. Pizza North.

Beret Leone

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