BEREA, Ohio — It's a tough time to be a restaurant owner right now.
The family running longtime community staple Eastland Inn in Berea knows that all too well, having been through their share of ups and downs during the pandemic. But they’re pushing through those challenges by sticking to tradition and a little innovation.
Eastland Inn has been located on Eastland Road since the 1940s.
“It's a staple within the neighborhood. It's kind of your neighborhood bar,” said Daniela Ruggiero, co-owner of Eastland Inn.
When it went up for sale seven years ago, Ruggiero and her brother Domenic Ruggiero jumped at the opportunity.
“We're from Middleburg heights which, as everyone knows, Berea and Middleburg Heights have combined high schools and we wanted to keep that tradition going,” Domenic Ruggiero said.
Those traditions include their popular Friday fish fries during Lent, along with some newer twists.
“We wanted to add a little flair to it with our Italian, our mom cooking,” Domenic Ruggiero said.
“We've got appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, and then we have entrees as well. What we're really known for is our perch. And then we have Friday homemade Italian specials. So right now, during Lent, it's going to be eggplant parmesan, but it varies between eggplant, lasagna, and meatball platter. So we've got a little bit of everything,” Daniela Ruggiero said.
Business before the pandemic was great, but the state’s shutdown of indoor dining couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“Right around Lent season, so that's our busiest season,” Daniela Ruggiero said.
Throughout the pandemic, sales have been down about 50%.
“It's been really tough. Every day I can assure you that every day I wake up, it's a new challenge,” Domenic Ruggiero said.
COVID-19 restrictions, like Ohio’s curfew, only added to their stress.
“We would sit here at night on a Friday night at 10 o'clock and it would be a ghost town,” Ruggiero said.
But the Ruggieros didn’t give up. At the beginning of December, they shut down for renovations and deep cleaning to keep people safe.
“They do a nice job, cleaned the bar up a lot, great food, treated with respect,” longtime customer Tim Thomas said.
They also added new promotions, like family to-go meal specials on Wednesdays.
“We had a lot of those loyal customers come in because we did have the lockdown. And we did some to-go orders. A lot of the individuals supported us, supported the staff, they came in and tried to order as much as they could,” Domenic Ruggiero said.
Now with the state’s curfew lifted, the Ruggieros are hoping to bring in more business with an old-time favorite.
“Friday and Saturday nights we have karaoke which starts at nine,” Daniela Ruggiero said.
“On the weekends, I think we're gonna flourish a little bit,” Domenic Ruggiero said. “Because, again, we're staying socially distant, but we do have karaoke and a lot of the individuals do come out later at night after dinner and they like to stay for a few extra cocktails. We're looking to give back again to them, and hopefully it's gonna turn for the better for us.”
They’re hoping the good news continues in 2021, and not just for them.
“Lent is right around the corner and that's our busy season,” Domenic Ruggiero said.
“We're hoping, either from to-go orders, the family meals, Friday reservations - just for people to support local businesses, not just ours, but all local businesses,” Daniela Ruggiero said.
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