Despite taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions—and then some—and at great cost, many restaurant owners across Northeast Ohio are struggling to break through the perception that in-person dining isn't safe. For the owners of Mama Catena Vino e' Cucina, a 31-year-old fixture in Euclid's dining scene, the constant struggle between sanitation and paying the bills has been emotionally taxing.
Mama Catena, located at 711 Babbit Road in Euclid, has offered traditional takes on classic, Italian dishes since 1989. Started by Rina and Fran Catena’s Sicilian-born parents, the restaurant’s core belief centers around a warm, friendly, family-like dining experience. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the once-bustling dining room has gone quiet far too often, Rina Catena said.
"As you can see we have cut down on our tables to 50%," Catena said as she fought back tears. "Where this place used to be filled with customers, now it's half-filled."
Catena, donning a thick black mask covering her mouth and nose, has to stop mid-conversation. The restaurant is more than a business for her. It is her family's livelihood and legacy. Catena listed off the litany of different local vendors and suppliers that the restaurant works with. They too have been affected.
"What I want our customers to know is that when you're coming in, you're not just supporting us, you're giving back to the whole community," Catena said. "You're supporting the whole community by giving back so come eat. Please."
To help put their customers' minds at ease, the restaurant has undertaken numerous steps to not only meet the state's re-opening guidelines, but exceed them too.
In addition to cutting down on the number of available tables in the small restaurant, Catena and her sister, Fran Lausin, decided to eliminate the waiting area. Customers waiting to be seated will stay in their cars outside before they are greeted at the front door when their table is ready. The laminated menus have been replaced with disposable, paper menus. Hand sanitizer and individually-served bottled water are available at every table. Even the salt, pepper and parmesan have been individually packaged.
It doesn't stop there.
Customers are given temperature checks at the door. The staff also asks customers if they have recently traveled to any of the coronavirus hot spots across the country. Of course, masks are also required to enter the restaurant. All of this is on top of the already extensive cleaning and sanitization protocols that pre-date the pandemic.
"We're keeping track of how many times we sanitize. I feel like it's above and beyond. We just want everyone to know that it is safe to come and eat here," Catena said. "We made the decision to take it up a notch, first, for ourselves and then for everyone else. We did everything as I would like to see it for me to feel safe to go somewhere in today's world."
The extensive COVID-19 precaution measures earned Mama Catena's a CLEan Committed Certification, a program pushed by Destination Cleveland designed to give restaurants and businesses a way to show customers that they are taking the precautions seriously.
"It's a program that recognizes when you have taken all of these steps. They recognized us. We have it up so people know when they're walking in here that it's all very safe," said manager Frank Catena. "As we've gotten this process together, it's made me feel more comfortable with sort of going about life as normal as possible. We want people to feel that way here."
The past few months have been incredibly difficult, Lausin said. It has been reminiscent of the painful months that followed a massive fire in 2017 that gutted the restaurant's former location.
"We've had our ups and downs and then the fire came. But you know what, we've gotten through it. We made it through that and I know with this we're going to make it through this too," Lausin said. "We're going to make it work. There's no way around it."