CLEVELAND — An award winning Cleveland restaurant is among hundreds of others across Ohio closing for good as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Tastebuds thrived for nearly 20 years inside a decades-old building in the 1400 block of E. 30th — a regular destination for residents ranging from the mayor to cops, blue collar to white collar customers, where lunchtime routinely saw lines out the door.
But even a restaurant with some of Cleveland's most loyal customers and frequently awarded "Best Lunchtime Fare" by food critics, could not survive the economic fallout that has also permanently closed at least 600 others across Ohio and slashed more than 100,000 jobs since March 1.
"So feeling like we were on life support," says Chef and Owner Bridget McGinty. "How long are we going to be able to keep racking up the bill — how long are we going to be able to live like this?"
As a result, McGinty ultimately made the decision to close a restaurant that she built from the ground up.
"For us to accumulate debt and add a loan on top of it, we just saw no relief coming," said McGinty.
The Ohio Restaurant Association says it expects hundreds more to close and estimates that those surviving will suffer huge economic losses.
"They believe they are going to come back at only 40 to 50 percent of the level of sales they were at before the COVID-19 situation," says John Barker, OHRA President. "So if you come back at those levels, you're going to be struggling to break even let alone pay back loans."
Barker says a U.S. Small Business Administration loan program failed to serve the restaurant industry.
"We're very concerned that some didn't even get the money and those who have had so many restrictions to it — it really didn't work for restaurants," says Barker.
For Tastebuds customers, McGinty has both a message-- and a gift to Cleveland: "I'd say to them that every time I locked that door I made the sign of the cross — there's just so much love in there."
So while Tastebuds is closing, its spirit will live on — at least $100,000 in kitchen and restaurant equipment is being donated to St. Michael Archangel's Food Pantry, 3114 Scranton Road in Cleveland.
Food Pantry Coordinator Mary Ann Balog says it's a blessing they never expected, adding "it is going to help every person in our neighborhood and outside our neighborhood."
The food pantry feeds up to 1,400 every month and the current economic crisis is expected to make the need even greater.
Tastebuds manager Erin McGinty-Perk says that amid the pain of closing, "there are happy tears because we know, moving on, that St. Michael's will do exactly what we did here at Tastebuds — bring joy and happiness to others."