‘Restaurants and bars are floating in purgatory,’ one local pub owner says

Restaurant and bar owners expressed frustration Tuesday over the lack of clarity from Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials about when they will be able to fully reopen their dining rooms and pubs again, although they acknowledge a difficult road ahead as the state reopens its economy during a coronavirus pandemic.

“I knew we wouldn’t be open by June 1, but actually hearing it yesterday hurt,” said MacKenzie Manley, owner of Mack’s Tavern in Washington Twp. “It is so tough right now.

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Credit: Photo: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Photo: Amelia Robinson

“I feel like restaurants and bars are floating in purgatory, just waiting and not knowing anything about a future. I wish they would just say, if things go as planned, you can open in July, or August, or whenever. Just give us a suggested date, so we can adjust our businesses to survive until such date.

“The not knowing is going to make us lose a lot of small businesses that we need in the community. I just hope they give us an answer soon so we can all figure this out together.”

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During DeWine’s Monday press conference that unveiled plans and timelines for reopening Ohio, restaurants and bars were not assigned a reopening timeline, nor were day-care centers, gyms, hair salons and barber shops.

“We know there is a great desire to get restaurants fully open and to get hair salons and day cares open — but we must first start down the pathway of opening things up where we thought there was less risk and a more controllable risk,” the governor said.

That wasn’t what many restaurant owners wanted to hear.

The Ohio Restaurant Association called upon DeWine to “strongly consider giving restaurants two weeks notice and allow restaurants to begin to offer social distanced dine-in service on May 15, 2020.”

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In a statement released late Monday, following DeWine’s announcement, the association described the state’s restaurants as being “the most devastated” of Ohio’s businesses, “with the current restrictions on dine-in service leading to more than 300,000 restaurant employees being laid off or furloughed and nearly 50% of all locations closed.”

“Every week that goes by will claim another percentage of restaurants that will never reopen, jobs that will disappear permanently, and communities that will be left without their local restaurants that are often the cornerstones of their downtowns and neighborhoods and fuel so much economic development,” association officials said. “We are certain the federal relief offered in the CARES Act largely misses the mark for restaurants that are closed or operating at deeply diminished capacity, and with its restrictions we know the difference between May 15 and June 1 to reopen restaurants for dine-in could be the difference between survival and shuttering for many Ohio restaurants.”

On Tuesday, DeWine announced the state is creating two safety groups, one for restaurants and the second for barbershops and hair salons, to study and make recommendations on how those businesses can reopen safely.

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Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Shanon Morgan — president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, which has no affiliation with the Ohio Restaurant Association — said she was “a little surprised, and a little disappointed, that restaurants were not addressed at all” in the reopening timelines laid out on Monday.

“For bars and restaurants, there still is no end to this. It’s terrifying,” Morgan said.

Amy Haverstick, owner of Jay’s Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon District, said she supports DeWine’s efforts to reopen the state’s economy slowly and carefully to protect Ohioans’ health.

“But every day we don’t reopen is money out the door,” Haverstick said.

Unlike the vast majority of restaurants, Haverstick has the advantage of owning the building that houses her restaurant. But fixed costs such as property taxes and utility bills still have to be paid, whether the restaurant is open or closed. And she shudders to think of what her restaurant’s reconfigured dining room, and resulting sales, would look like if she is forced to cut its current seating capacity by half to accommodate social distancing, which appears possible, even likely.

Haverstick, whose restaurant specializes in seafood and does a brisk bar business and wine service, chose not to try to transform Jay’s into a carryout-only restaurant during the pandemic. But many other restaurants have did change their business model to become, temporarily, carryout-and-delivery destinations, which have always been permitted under the state’s shelter-at-home policy.

But the MVRA’s Morgan says most dine-in restaurants are not set up for that. “In the long run, it’s not enough to keep restaurants afloat,” she said.

>> UPDATE: 2 more local restaurants to reopen, one in Kettering, the other in Centerville

Several restaurants that have been closed for weeks have reopened or are gearing up to reopen for carryout, perhaps as a dress rehearsal for a fuller reopening in the weeks or months ahead. Two more Dayton-area restaurants joined that list Tuesday.

Tokyo Sushi & Grill at 4431 Feedwire Road across from Costco Wholesale in Centerville reopened Tuesday, offering carryout and curbside service. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner carryout six days a week, closed Mondays. And in west Kettering, Kung Fu Noodle at 2801 S. Dixie Drive, which had shut its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 20, is gearing up to reopen on Friday, May 1 for carryout.

MacKenzie Manley did decide to turn her bar-restaurant into a carryout destination early in the crisis. She shared a photo from inside Mack’s Tavern on Tuesday that showed pizza boxes and hot bags stacked on her bar where cocktails, beers and customers once congregated.

“I have gone from a profitable bar to a curbside restaurant that barely breaks even,” Manley said. “But my employees are taken care of, and that’s what matters.”

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