CLEVELAND — The Plum Restaurant has been in Ohio City for nearly five years.
“On a Friday and Saturday night I would love watching people catching up with people they haven't seen, and going there for anniversaries, and going there for birthday parties. We've had weddings in that space,” said co-owner Jonah Oryszak.
But this past year, there hasn’t been much to celebrate.
“We didn’t know enough. We didn’t feel our staff was safe. We didn’t feel like our customers were safe,” said Oryszak.
He said they did what they could to stay open, but with such a small space, it wasn’t sustainable.
“It just got to a point where it just didn’t make sense to keep going. So the idea was to wait until spring when we thought we’d know a little bit more,” said Oryszak.
Oryszak said in that time, they’ve learned that if they’re going to re-open, the entire way the restaurant is run will have to change.
“We’re very aware that things have to be different when we come back,” he said. “We have the opportunity to press the reset button and change everything.”
They’ve been working to come up with a new recipe for success.
“If this would, God forbid, happen again, we wouldn’t have to close down because we’re kind of setting this up in an interesting way.”
Once the doors of 4133 Lorain Ave. reopen, it will no longer be known as The Plum, but Heart of Gold.
“You walk in and it’s kind of like, find yourself a seat and then come up and order,” said Oryszak. “You're kind of taking all these steps of service and putting it in the customer's hands.”
He said they’re working on finding ways to cut costs, without cutting down on customer experience or the food’s quality.
“Everything that comes out of our kitchen and bar is going to be fully on compostable materials, so, we don't need a dishwasher. We don't need the dishwasher chemicals. We don't need the staff extra people for that,” he said. “ I would rather trim all the fat of that and just be able to pay our workers more and have less workers.”
John Barker is the president of The Ohio Restaurant Association. He said in the year since Gov. Mike DeWine forced restaurants to close indoor dining, 20% of all restaurants in Ohio have permanently shut down.
“The world has changed so much in 12 months,” he said. “March 15, a year ago, we felt that closing congregate areas anywhere where people gather was a smart thing to do. But we've learned how to manage it now,” said Barker.
Barker said the restaurants that have survived, have had to evolve.
“They've been fighting. The ones that have made it have been fighting and trying to change their business model,” he said. “We think that technology and some of these changes got accelerated by 3 to 4 years in 1 year.”
Barker said ORA’s research has shown it will take an entire year for the majority of restaurant owners to break even. He said Ohio’s restaurants are far better off than neighboring states.
“Oftentimes, we were able to convince the Governor and his team that there was a better direction to go, but other states didn’t,” said Barker. “You just go up the street in Michigan and their restaurant industry is decimated.”
He said the restaurant industry is on the cusp of the turnaround due to vaccine availability, warmer weather, and financial help at the local, state and federal level.
“We're more optimistic today in March 2021 than any other time since the pandemic, which is, of course, a low bar,” he said.
Oryszak said they’re currently renovating and curating a new menu for Heart of Gold, but said they’re hoping to be open mid-June.