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Restaurant owner says safety has to be priority in reopening

Expects customers will be slow to return
Posted at 5:15 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 19:33:39-04

PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio — Nearly two months after Governor Mike DeWine ordered restaurants closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, his announcement of reopening dates is something many owners have been waiting to hear.

RELATED: DeWine unveils plan to open salons, barbershops, outside dining on May 15, inside dining on May 21

"It's some light at the end of the tunnel finally," said George Nakhle, owner of Sky Restaurant and Lounge in Parma Heights.

Nakhle said his business is down about 60% during the pandemic. His usual staff of 27 employees is now just eight.

Yet, he said, maintaining the safety of customers and his workers has to be the priority when Sky reopens its patio on May 15, and the full restaurant on May 21.

That means workers will wear masks, chairs and tables will be sanitized, chairs and tables removed to maintain social distancing and diners will order off disposable menus.

"I don't think in my time I imagined we'd be in something like this," said Nakhle.

But he believes restaurant owners working together to all follow new state guidelines will be the key to a faster recovery.

But will restaurants really adhere to the new rules?

Video obtained by 5 On Your Side Investigators showed workers at a Cleveland Heights restaurant working nearly shoulder-to-shoulder and not wearing masks when dealing with customers earlier this week.

"You can't do that," said Pierre Bejjani, an advisor to Sky and a member of the Governor's Restaurant Advisory Group who watched the video. "They don't understand the severity. There is a problem out there and we need to be careful and able to eliminate this problem."

Bejjani said local health departments will investigate complaints against restaurants, but added customers and workers will need to work together to ensure rules are being followed.

"We have to police each other, and we have to help each other and make sure things are in the right direction," said Bejjani. "There is a different norm now, and we have to work through it."

But how long will it take for business to return to normal? Nakhle said he expects it to be a slow process.

"I don't think it's going to happen like a light switch," he said. "Turn the light switch on and everybody's back. I think it's going to take time to rebuild the customer base to come back in and make them feel comfortable and know that we're doing the right things to make them feel safe."

Bejjani said the advisory group will continue to monitor what's working and what's not. He said Thursday that the new rules aren't permanent and will be adjusted over time.