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Are new COVID-19 variants our future? No one wants to know more than small business owners.

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Posted at 7:04 AM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 07:04:01-05

CLEVELAND — Wednesday night welcomed a steady flow of diners at the Heart of Gold restaurant in Ohio City.

Jonah Oryszak is the owner of Heart of Gold. He said, these days, there’s no foul-proof recipe for restaurant success.

“Usually there’s a method to it, and now it’s just kind of like you’ll have the busiest Tuesday you’ve ever had, followed by the worst Wednesday you’ve ever had,” he said.

Heart of Gold is located at 4133 Lorain Ave., the same spot that The Plum used to sit. Oryszak said when the pandemic began, it marked the end of The Plum.

“We were The Plum for a little over 5 years, doing kind of more fine dining. We made the hard decision, once our staff was home and safe and, you know, all signed up for unemployment and whatnot, to close.”

But Heart of Gold is his brainchild. A restaurant he opened with hopes it could be more pandemic-proof.

“Around the idea of maybe staffing a couple fewer people, but paying everyone more, keeping everyone safe and socially distant,” he said.

Heart of Gold also offers a more relaxed, comfort type of food and vibe.

“We do burgers, fried chicken, sandwiches, salads. We just rolled out a brunch Saturday mornings that is very popular,” said Oryszak.

The restaurant opened in June.

“The first couple of months were great. We were packed every night,” he said.

But as the delta variant emerged, so did uncertainty in customers.

“We’re just all over the place now. We were very busy when we first opened. I think as more variants happen and people are confused, that kind of goes up and down.”

He fears the confirmation that the omicron variant is in the U.S. will also affect customers' willingness to eat out.

“This unsure vibe of like, what’s next?” he said. “It’s very stressful.”

The question of ‘what’s next?’ is one experts are working to answer.

“We don’t yet know what this constellation of spike mutations is going to do for transmissibility and how sick it makes us,” said Mark Cameron, an associate professor for Case Western Reserve University.

Cameron has dedicated the last 20 years to studying coronaviruses. He said, typically, coronaviruses mutate to their demise by now, or at least, live among us without making us extremely sick.

He said with COVID-19 and its mutations, they’ve had to throw out the ‘textbook’ prediction of what the virus will do.

“It keeps surprising us in its ability to mutate and find new ways around our immunity and our behavior and that is a concern,” he said. “With coronaviruses, in general, they are quite stable. They don’t, or aren't supposed to, change so dramatically like flu viruses do where we would need a different flu shot year after year.”

Dr. Claudia Hoyen of University Hospitals said only time will tell if our futures will be full of masking, boosters and several different types of variants.

“Does this mean we may each year like as we get our flu shot, get a COVID shot? It might. Like I said, does it mean someday this will really be more like a cold or something like that? It could be.”

But both Hoyen and Cameron said all of us can do our part by stopping new variants from emerging by working to stop the spread: masking, vaccinating and testing.

“We keep giving this virus additional opportunity to surge over us and we just have to get down to business and protecting ourselves again,” said Cameron.

Protecting his business is exactly what Oryszak is worried about, as he watches Omicron closely.

“Anyone who comes by Heart of Gold is very happy with what they get. It's just, you know, we need you guys to come,” he said.