CLEVELAND — Ohio’s restaurant industry is still trying to claw its way back from a massive slump brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, many are hoping business will see a boost with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide curfew lifted.
It's been a long year for Sam McNulty and his staff at Market Garden Brewery.
“There's one thing that there's no doubt - we’ve all tested positive for cabin fever,” McNulty, owner of Market Garden Brewery, said.
The restaurant has been on a rollercoaster since last March. It closed during the first lockdown, opened back up in July, and closed again in November.
The team has spent their downtime installing safety upgrades and sprucing up the place.
“All of our indoor air is sanitized using UV air filters, so you can't see them. But every single one of our air handling units has this UV air filter that basically destroys all viruses and bacteria,” McNulty said. “So the air we're breathing right now has been fully sanitized.”
Now, they’re gearing up for another comeback.
“We hope to be open before St Patrick's Day in March, fingers crossed,” McNulty said.
McNulty said DeWine ending the statewide 11 p.m. curfew is what set those plans into motion.
“It's even more than just the limited hours, it's more the idea that people are not being told to stay home and be afraid and hunker down. Now, we can very safely get back to living,” McNulty said.
That decision couldn’t come soon enough for those in the restaurant industry.
A recent poll conducted by the Ohio Restaurant Association found that most restaurants are operating at 60% or less of their normal capacity because of social distancing requirements.
John Barker, the president and CEO of the ORA, said around 4,000 restaurants statewide have closed during the pandemic.
“If you drive around our cities in Ohio, which I've done, I've been up and down all of our cities in Ohio. It looks pretty sad right now,” Barker said.
Barker said business owners cited the curfew as one reason why customers weren’t coming in.
“Consumers would say, I'm just not going to do it because I don't want to be rushed,” Barker said.
But he said Valentine’s Day weekend was promising with a nice turnout from customers.
That weekend happened to be the first without the curfew.
Barker said it's a glimmer of hope for the entire industry.
“We have a long way to come back and we're going to fight and kick and scream at, you know what I mean, and get some businesses back open and incentivize some businesses to perhaps reopen. And that's going to take some work,” Barker said.
For Market Garden Brewery, the work has already begun. And they’re ready to get back to what they’ve been missing out on for so long.
“We’re excited to get back into business, bring back all our furloughed employees that are anxious to get back to work,” McNulty said.
Barker said the next stage of recovery for bars and restaurants will be in the spring and summer when the weather gets warmer and outdoor dining starts back up again.
“We talked to the mayor and his office a couple of times about this and maybe some grants, local grants to help people do that type of outdoor because that opens up maybe another 20% for a restaurant, depending on how big their outdoor space is. And it's great. People like it,” Barker said.
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