CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — Ohio has 350 wineries which employ more than 8,000 people and those wineries have faced a unique challenge during the past year.
With health officials encouraging social distancing and staying home, many restaurants have beefed up their take out and curbside options. But that isn't as easy for wineries because many people eat at wineries for the experience.
For Sapphire Creek Winery and Gardens in Chagrin Falls, that put a damper on business in the early months of the pandemic.
The winery hosts a variety of events from corporate functions and weddings. It also has a full-service restaurant.
“We have everything from a seafood boil,” executive chef Richard Bennett said, “to filet steak, ribeye steak, and then we have some odds and ends like lamb porterhouse.”
Bennett said the combination of the typical winter slowdown and COVID-19 fears last year meant the drinks weren’t flowing as freely.
“About February hit and we started feeling the crunch right away,” Bennett said.
Then came the COVID shutdown, and the winery closed for in-person dining from March until May.
“That was devastating. Obviously, not just for us but for the industry as a whole,” said owner Kathleen Dangelo.
Dangelo said take out helped them maintain some connection with their customers, but not much.
“We're not really a takeout place, we've determined that. This is an experience place as I've said. Takeout’s not really in our wheelhouse,” Dangelo said. “It was pretty much a virtual shutdown for us.”
Business rebounded during the summer and customers returned, taking advantage of the winery’s 11,000 square feet and ample social distancing.
“We are able to socially distance our tables very well,” Dangelo said. “You’ve got high ceilings, a lot of natural air and natural light comes in.”
But Dangelo said they felt the crunch again when winter rolled around.
“We saw that with the COVID numbers increasing in the winter and people's reluctance to dine indoors, we had to make things more comfortable for our guests,” Dangelo said.
Sapphire Creek Winery and Gardens shut down again in January, but this time it was voluntary to make those upgrades.
To give even more social distancing options for customers, they installed private dining domes and gas heaters in their outdoor pavilion.
“We took the time to also paint and deep clean the spaces,” Dangelo said. “So that was a time well spent for us.”
Those upgrades came at a cost of about $65,000, but Dangelo feels it was money well spent to keep business coming in.
“Our guests are happy. Their experience is just wonderful right now,” Dangelo said.
The winery has also started hosting themed game nights, including Bingos and Bubbles.
“Our marketing coordinator comes up with different bingo cards based off of television shows. Sometimes, she'll just run a basic bingo round,” Bennett said. “I think 58 people signed up, and we had a waitlist that was pretty extensive. So the next time we do Bingos and Bubbles we're gonna actually shut the entire restaurant down and just do that event, that way we can fit more people in for it.”
“At this point I would say we're on an upswing again so hopefully we can maintain the course,” Bennett said.
CLICK HERE to find more information about Sapphire Creek Winery and Gardens.
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