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Restaurants continue to evolve during pandemic, with some becoming 'ghost kitchens'

RESTAURANT PANDEMIC
Posted at 5:41 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 19:01:26-04

CLEVELAND — New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how the restaurant industry continues to lead the way in new jobs being added to the workforce.

It's an industry still dealing with impacts from the pandemic in more ways than one. For some, that means cutting back hours because of staffing or closing altogether.

On Saturday, Shaker Heights’ Larchmere Tavern will close its doors after 29 years.

“COVID obviously was a big reason why we’re closing,” owner Fred Vrabel said. “We’ve lost $120,000 in sales and it’s impossible to make that up. It made sense at this time to shut it down.”

The closure comes after months of fundraising to keep the doors open.

It's a familiar sight for Mark Kawada, the general manager of Pier W and board member of Cleveland Independents, a group of more than 80 locally owned and operated restaurants.

Since the pandemic began, Kawada told News 5 he’s seen about two dozen colleagues and their restaurants close.

“It’s just mind-boggling of all the stuff that’s been going on for the past year and a half,” he said.

While all industries in Ohio saw a significant dip in revenue at the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, the leisure and hospitality sector has struggled to come close to recovering back to pre-pandemic levels.

For Kawada, the biggest shift in this pandemic means operating at what his staffing situation will allow: 60% capacity.

“We just don’t have the staff to open up, we’re not open for lunch right now,” he explained. “We're full with reservations all through next week. We have the people who want to go out, we want to expand our business. But without labor or without product, it’s just really hard.”

For Fabio Salerno, owner of Lago East Bank in Cleveland, staffing won’t be a problem at his new venture.

Earlier this week, a ghost kitchen sushi start-up called Sora opened, utilizing his existing kitchen and offering pickup and takeout.

“Being able to adapt and pivot right now is paramount,” he said.

“A ghost kitchen is essentially the same thing as a normal restaurant,” co-owner Kumar Arora explained. “The only difference is you don’t have the overhead. Without the servers, without the rent, you’re looking at just a kitchen that can produce food and go right to your home.”

Going forward, Arora explained how the ghost kitchen setup will better protect the business from rising COVID-19 cases spreading throughout our area.

“I think the evolution now is in ghost kitchens,” Arora added. “If you don't have a program or plan set in place, now’s the time to think about it.”

Takeout orders can be placed online at eatatsora.com or over the phone at 216-294-1800, with pickup at 1121 West 10th Street 4-10 p.m. daily. Delivery is available through DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub.