East Lansing restaurants new and old share pandemic experiences

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Patrons eat a meal outside Barrio Tacos on Oct. 11. Barrio Tacos first opened in East Lansing March 9, 2020.

As restaurants continue to deal with the precautions COVID-19 has created, many East Lansing establishments have not had to worry that a lack of MSU students on campus would hurt business. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s June 5 executive order limited restaurants’ capacities to 50%, but Jake Hawley, owner of Barrio Tacos at 202 Albert St., said that hasn’t stopped patrons from stopping by. 

“Business is good,” Hawley said. “People still feel comfortable coming out, and I think everybody appreciates what we’re doing as far as safety protocol and what-not.” 

Barrio Tacos opened March 9. It closed its indoor seating a week later after Whitmer signed an executive order on March 16 that limited restaurants to carry-out and delivery only. Hawley said he had no idea what to expect when doors reopened this summer … and then closed again for several days after a COVID-19 outbreak linked to Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub across the street.  

“I’d say expectations kind of go out the window when you have the pandemic, and it changes everything,” Hawley said. “It’s been a roller coaster, to say the least.” 

Joe Bell, owner of The Peanut Barrel along Grand River Avenue, said while most students have no problem with eating at his restaurant, it’s the older crowd he’s trying to regain. 

“I think the thing that is mostly limiting us is the COVID fear,” Bell said. “I don’t think that’s a big deal with the students. Some of them, perhaps, but not many. Most of them are just rocking and rolling.” 

Bell has been owner of the establishment since 1980. He said throughout his time there, Peanut Barrel has been a restaurant for everyone, not just students. 

“Our business is a business that caters to everybody,” Bell said. “It’s not just a student restaurant and bar. And so the older people are still a little nervous about coming in, and that’s not a good thing.” 

Pizza House, another go-to destination for many in the East Lansing area, has seen a steady clientele since the start of MSU classes, according to server Arika Worthing. 

“I would say it’s like a healthy mix between everyone,” Worthing said. “We do have an older crowd that usually comes in. Pizza House is decently expensive. We do have a happy hour, which is half off appetizers and half off drinks, so students will usually come in during that time.”