Local restaurant owners are growing increasingly concerned their businesses won’t be able to survive the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak as time estimates for a potential lifting of a forced shutdown extend deeper into 2020.
“I have never been so sad in my life,” said Amy Haverstick, owner of Jay’s Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon District. “I think about that restaurant and my employees every day.”
Haverstick has operated the 44-year-old restaurant — founded and operated by her father for 33 years — since 2009 and also has served on the board of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association. She said a prolonged shutdown poses a serious threat to the Dayton area’s restaurant scene.
“A few weeks, a month, we can handle that,” Haverstick said. “But now they’re talking about maybe three or four months. It will be a lot harder for us, for a lot of us in the restaurant industry, to get back on our feet and get going again if it takes that long.”
Jennifer Dean, co-founder and co-owner of Mudlick Tap House on East Second Street in downtown Dayton, said the coming weeks and months will be “very damaging and extremely trying for the hospitality industry. It’s going to be a massive financial impact to our region because, at this time, we are still required to pay sales tax, many have a couple of weeks of payroll, including taxes, to pay. This doesn’t even include our regular expenses like mortgages, utility, insurance, etc. I worry about our city and the economic impact this is going to have.”
Some dine-in restaurants are turning to carryout and delivery during the shutdown to try to keep employees and generate some income, although those dishes often have relatively small profit margins compared to alcohol and other beverages. Haverstick and Dean both decided against it.
“I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to maintain our full level of quality,” Haverstick said. “At this point, all of my employees can apply for unemployment,” which state officials announced Sunday night would be fast-tracked for those impacted by the forced shutdown of all bars and restaurants’ dine-in services.
Dean said she made the decision to shut down temporarily due to health and safety concerns for staff and guests.
“We are also committed to making smart financial decisions in this situation to ensure that each of our staff members has a place in which to return,” Dean said.
Dan Apolito, co-founder and co-owner of both Archer’s Tavern locations in Centerville and Kettering and of Stone House Tavern in Waynesville, reached a similar decision.
Apolito said there are a variety of costs involved in launching a carryout-and-delivery-only operation that led him to believe it wouldn’t be worth it.
“We believe ‘hunkering down’ was our best strategy to long term interests,” Apolito said. “We were concerned that as the (shutdown) continued, people would become less willing to venture out even for carryout.”
If the forced shutdown goes longer than expected, “Depending on support that is available through government agencies, it could bankrupt us,” Apolito said. And even if restaurants survive financially, rehiring staff will be more difficult the longer the shutdown lasts.
“We plan on opening as soon this is over,” Apolito said. “We remain optimistic and are looking forward to returning to normalcy.”
Haverstick, who took over Jay’s after her father died unexpectedly in 2009, said she’s “glad my dad is not here to see this. Although I sure wish he was here to give me some advice.”