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Restaurants, bars make tough choices during pandemic

bars and restaurants
Posted at 10:23 PM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 23:23:43-04

CLEVELAND — Restaurants and bars in Northeast Ohio are having to make tough choices about how to move forward in a time where safety is paramount.

Governor Mike DeWine said Tuesday he will discuss more about bars at his briefing on Thursday. It's not yet clear whether he'll issue any guidance on operations of bars or restaurants.

'I am not open because I want to be open'

Jenn Wirtz, owner of Der Braumeister at W. 130th Street and Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, said she would do whatever the governor tells her to do.

"I will close down early," Wirtz said. "I will limit myself to outdoor dining only. I will do takeout again."

She echoed many business owners when she said she's doing whatever it takes to get through this as a community. Her restaurant was open for much of the pandemic, doing carryout, delivery, and catering before it closed for renovations for a while.

"And sure enough, we opened right up in the middle of a peak," Wirtz said.

While Der Braumeister remains open, Wirtz said business has been unsteady at times.

"As a business owner, and someone who is putting myself at risk, I have to do this," Wirtz said of her decision to stay open. "I am not open because I want to be open, we have to be open. We’ve made these decisions. We’re operating on such small profit margins."

She noted that she would like to see more testing available for her employees and herself.

"I need to be able to have same-day testing, I need my employees that, if they’re feeling sick, they can roll up somewhere and they should be able to get tested immediately," Wirtz said. "It’s little things like that that would make my job so much easier."

'It wasn't safe'

"It’s been a challenge for every small business and everybody in the industry. They’ve had to go through the same thing," said Jay Demagall, owner of Forest City Brewery.

Demagall said he made the choice to close down the brewery, for the time being, only offering growlers because it didn't seem feasible to stay open.

"We’re a small brewery," Demagall said. "We just want to serve you a beer and everybody have fun and be safe."

But that proved difficult, taking all the precautions mandated by cities, counties, states and the federal government. He also said it was difficult to enforce people wearing masks as they spent time with friends.

"It just became too much," Demagall said. "It wasn’t safe."

He added that Forest City Brewery was "definitely going to reopen in the future, it’s just a matter of when. Right now, the virus is spiking."

Demagall said Clevelanders should know that many of their favorite local places are going through the same kind of difficulties.

"It’s gonna be strange and difficult times for everybody, including your small business owners and your favorite places," Demagall said. "We just need to be more patient with each other and we’ll get it worked out, and it’s not going to last forever."

A temporary closure

Great Lakes Brewing Company has shut down its restaurant and patio for now, in response to a spike in cases in Cuyahoga County, according to Allison Pryce, general manager of brewpub operations.

"I think there has been a lot of concern that this is due to an outbreak," Pryce said. "Nobody’s sick. We’ve kept all of our employees as safe as we possibly can, following all the guidelines."

Pryce said this would be a temporary closure and that they'd "be back at it, serving beers, as soon as we can," likely with a new service model and possibly an updated menu.

She added that the unpredictable nature of this pandemic has been difficult.

"It seems like things change so quickly," Pryce said. "It’s different now than it was a month ago, it’ll be different again in another two weeks or a month."

She said most customers have been positive about the closing.

"I think a lot of people get it," Pryce said. "We have had a couple disappointed fans, some folks who were coming by with reservations for the week. We fully intend to reach out to them and make sure that we get them in soon."

'It's a tough time to be operating'

The Ohio Restaurant Association has said it is against the idea of making bars and restaurants close at 10 p.m. to control the virus.

John Barker, the president and CEO, said the vast majority of restaurants are doing a great job with masks, social distancing, checking employees' temperatures and symptoms and other precautions, and that they should not have to pay the price for the few that are not.

Barker said that almost 90% of Ohio's restaurants, or approximately 23,000, are now open.

"The 10 percent or so that are not are in situations where they've had something happen that's kind of unique maybe, or they're just not financially able to be open. It's a tough time to be operating," he said, adding that many independent restaurants and smaller businesses are seeing revenues down 20 to 70% versus a year ago.

"They're a pretty resilient group, restaurateurs. You gotta be tough to be in the restaurant business, but it's tough out there," Barker said. "And I think that people are trying to figure out, 'How can I even just stay open, keep some people employed and be part of my state, part of my community?'"

Barker said many restaurants have taken on new technology and innovations during the pandemic, from contactless delivery to apps.

He said customers can help make sure restaurants are doing the right things.

"If you're out somewhere and you're seeing things that don't look quite right, let somebody know, give a jingle to the health department, go talk to the manager and say, 'I'm observing this, it doesn't seem quite right based on everything I understand,'" Barker said.

He encouraged people to be good to one another.

"Let's have a little grace and do a great job," Barker said.

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