Cincinnati restaurants are preparing for an uncertain winter amid the COVID-19 pandemic

When restaurants and bars reopened in July, the HomeMakers Bar in Over-the-Rhine was at the top.

Owners Catherine Manbat and Julia Petiprin have reached an agreement with developer Urban Sites to use one of their parking lots for outdoor seating. They also borrowed an Airstream trailer to open a bar.

Regular customers came back, reassured by the security of plenty of outdoor seating. Some new ones too.

Everything is considered, from heat lamps to fire pits, tents and igloos, which some restaurateurs use to serve customers, but which cost around $ 1,700 per inhabitant.

So restaurant and bar owners like Manabat are scratching their heads trying to figure out which options best suit their needs and budget.

“We take it every day,” she said.

Whichever options they choose, most owners say they’ll be taking advantage of a new scholarship program that Mayor John Cranley announced last week to help with pay. The program, a joint venture between the city and Cincinnati’s Regional Chamber’s Taste of Cincinnati, provides grants of up to $ 10,000 for restaurants and up to $ 5,000 for bars to get them through the winter.

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“I think it’s one of the best things Mayor Cranley has ever done,” said Daniel Wright, owner of several popular Cincinnati restaurants, including Senate, Abigail Street and Forty Thieves.

“It’s nice that you give something back. It shows that you care.”

But again, the problem is figuring out where to spend the money. Sure, heat lamps are an option, but their availability (and price) seem to vary from day to day.

A week and a half ago, Stephanie Webster, co-owner of Oakley Wines and The Rhined Cheese Shop in Over-the-Rhine, told me she couldn’t find it.

Heat lamps outside the Lackman bar on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.

“They are sold out everywhere,” she said, referring to her futile attempts to find them at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wayfair.

Thankfully, these retailers have replenished their inventory since the last time I spoke with Webster. But, as they say, restaurant owners should get them “while supplies last!”

While Wright said he was almost equipped with heat lamps, his major concern is the cost of the propane to fuel them.

“If you have three heaters and they cost $ 30 to $ 40 a can and run six a week, that adds up,” he said. “You also have to leave a deposit for each tank.”

Christian Gill, owner of Boomtown Biscuits and Whiskey in Pendleton (and another location soon to open in Union), doesn’t have a hard time sourcing lamps. It’s just that he has no idea where (or if) to use them.

“Since our terrace is not covered, the challenge is whether parking has a positive or negative effect on waiting for a table,” he said, noting that there is a large parking lot behind the restaurant where guests can comfortably sit can wait in their cars until their tables are ready.

Meanwhile, Tony Ferrari, who with his brother Austin owns the Mom ‘n’ Em Cafe in Camp Washington, doesn’t know what to do. The Ferraris already have an outdoor fireplace, but aren’t sure they want to add more heating at all.

“I’m in the air,” said Tony. “Are we spending $ 100 a week on propane and / or firewood to try to get the five guests who want to sit outside for a $ 3 cup of coffee?

“It’s hard to find out right now. And will they even come or sit outside when it’s 15 degrees outside?”

Ferrari also asked how attractive an option such as enclosed outer tents would be to its customers.

“The tents are cool,” he said. “But what is the difference between a heated four-wall tent and a heated four-wall café?”

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