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How Quick Collaboration Led to Downtown Rochester’s Creative Outdoor Dining

COVID-19 has tested downtown Rochester’s ability to adapt to changing situations at every turn. It has also generated incredible creativity and collaboration. For downtown’s restaurant community, all these skills came into play as they prepared to re-open to the public this June.

As Minnesota began developing its reopening strategy, the Economic Stability Working Group, a collaborative unit made up of representatives from the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, Destination Medical Center, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, RAEDI, and the Rochester Downtown Alliance, anticipated that outdoor dining would likely play a large role in helping patrons feel safe while dining out. The group began discussing precedents for outdoor dining in other cities and around the world. A sub-group that included the Mayor’s Office, and City staff from Administration, Public Works, Licensing, Parks & Recreation, and Police Department began quickly identifying a re-opening strategy with restaurants in downtown, where space is confined.

In the end, DMC furnished funds to support the safety equipment needed and facilitated introductions to design firms, including HGA Architecture, Coen + Partners, and RSP Architects to volunteer technical assistance. Funds from the RDA’s existing Façade Grant Program were reallocated to a Sidewalk Café Extension Grant program.

Through this quick collaboration and creativity, restaurants found the opportunity to physically distance and recapture seating capacity through outdoor dining options. Here are a few examples of the imaginative solutions in downtown Rochester.

Creatively using downtown locations

When space is confined like it is in downtown, re-imagining spaces becomes crucial. Restaurants utilized alleys, parking spaces, or delivery lanes for increased capacity.

Adding new furniture and fixtures

Other dining establishments took it a step further and re-envisioned the seating within the space itself.

Repurposing items for beautification

Let’s be honest: the concrete barriers that ensure the safety of outdoor dining patrons aren't considered universally unattractive. Restaurants were able to beautify the space in between with decommissioned planters and bright florals.

Downtown restaurants continue to adapt and evolve with the help of partners every day. HGA supported designs for Newt’s, Hefe Rojo, City Market, Redwood Room, and 300 First. RSP worked in collaboration with Mango Thai to explore options for its outdoor dining space. Coen + Partners helped Bleu Duck Kitchen and aided Almadina Restaurant.

If your downtown restaurant is interested in extending space to accommodate outdoor dining, Sidewalk Café Extension Grant funds are still available. Contact Karli McElroy, RDA senior director of placemaking, at for further details.