OPINION: Why local restaurants need our support more now than ever

Cincinnati restaurants made headlines last week when Mayor John Cranley announced on July 17 that, despite a regional rise in cases, no COVID-19 cases had been linked to Cincinnati restaurants.

"Restaurants are safe, restaurants are safe, restaurants are safe," Cranley said during a press conference.

Life as we know it has been turned upside down since the arrival of the coronavirus, with the restaurant and dining scene among those businesses deeply impacted.

One of my absolutely favorite Cincinnati chefs, Jose Salazar, has recently gone on record saying the next few weeks will make or break his business. James Beard-nominated Salazar owns three terrific restaurants in Cincinnati.

Mita’s (www.mitas.co) named after his grandmother is downtown at the corner of Fifth and Race streets on the ground floor of the 84.51 building. It is at the top of my southern Ohio dining list, serving tapas, ceviche and dishes from Spain and Latin America that deliver the wow factor in presentation and especially flavor. This is a restaurant that my husband and I have chosen to celebrate two wedding anniversaries and special date nights.

His neighborhood restaurant in Over-the-Rhine, Salazar (www.salazarcincinnati.com) offers a relaxed menu sourced from local farms with food that is as comfortable as the spot it’s served up in.

His third restaurant Goose & Elder (www.gooseandelder.com) is a casual American eatery located at 1800 Race Street across from OTR’s historic Findlay Market. The seasonal menu features many healthy options alongside rich classics like pepper-crusted steak, chicken schnitzel, and duck confit with bacon braised greens.

All three restaurants are special, with menus and a kitchen execution that demands a repeat visit. And yet, the visits aren’t happening. Salazar has said if things don’t pick up very soon he may have to close.

That’s a sentiment echoed by several local restaurant owners.

“We need major help,” a Dayton chef wrote in a text message to me earlier this week.

At least one in five restaurants is expected to close due to COVID-19, more if this goes on for a long time, according to the National Restaurant Association, which announced that 100,000 restaurants across the country have closed as the number of COVID positive patients only continues to rise. How many of these restaurants will be able to reopen is unknown.

Corner Kitchen

Corner Kitchen is one of our local independent restaurants that has had to permanently close due to the change in their business brought on by COVID-19. The dining scene is not going to be the same without Corner Kitchen. I will miss the fresh ingredients, scratch kitchen, seasonal menus and especially their wonderful seafood dishes executed by talented chef Jack Skilliter.

Their mussels never disappointed, with updated preparations that went with the season. The classic French style with shallots with a white wine Pernod broth, and herbed butter was a highlight as well as a red Thai curry sauce, pineapple, basil, and mint that came in summer months. Having a mound of crispy, herbed fries with them just seasoned the pot.

The closing of an established and beloved restaurant like Corner Kitchen is a sobering reminder that our local restaurants are continuing to scramble as sales are nowhere near where they were pre-COVID.

Just as we have to support our community members and families who continue to struggle with everything that this virus has brought, it is important we show support to the local organizations and businesses that make our community so special.

I am hearing from a lot of local independent restaurateurs saying that take-out is helping keep them afloat but ultimately is not enough to sustain them with the capacity restrictions they have to operate under and the additional costs they are incurring.

They say the next several months and the support they receive will tell the tale.

Of course, almost nothing when it comes to COVID-19 is without risk today, but the risk we are taking when we don’t support our local restaurants is that there may be very few options left when we are ready.

Dayton Eats, which appears every Sunday in the Dayton Daily News Life section, looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of exciting outdoor spaces, new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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