“We’re just trying to survive.”
This was the usual refrain heard among Cincinnati restaurant and bar owners after the Ohio governor. Mike DeWine suggested he could stop eating indoors as early as next week if the staggering number of COVID-19 cases in Ohio doesn’t trend down.
This is what Cristan Pietoso, owner of several restaurants in the Cincinnati area, including Forno in Hyde Park and Montgomery and Via Vite in downtown, said when asked about it Thursday.
“I think DeWine is doing what it can to make sure we are safe,” he said. “The downside is restaurants and bars are being targeted again and I just don’t see why.”
Pietoso is particularly upset that the closings could come during the holiday season, which is usually a boon to restaurants and bars and which many of them are counting on to stay afloat.
He said he and his staff did their part to keep his restaurants as safe as possible.
“We have a lot of space between the seats at our tables and at the bar. And we all wear masks – everyone – from the front of the house to our kitchen staff and dishwashers. “
What particularly confuses Pietoso is that he has not yet seen a study that describes a direct link between restaurants and the spread of COVID-19. “They talk about it, but I didn’t see it,” he said.
This is a sentiment backed up by a statement from the Ohio Restaurant Association earlier this week.
“Any discussion of the closure of another restaurant is in conflict with the scientific data or contact tracing data provided to us, which continues to show that the greatest risk of transmission is in unregulated private gatherings,” the association said.
“Further constraints would be devastating to an industry that employs 585,000 Ohioans in more than 23,000 locations and worrying given the extensive steps the industry has taken to effectively meet mandates, requirements and recommendations.”
Still, it’s easy to see why DeWine doesn’t want to take any chances. At the time of this writing, Hamilton County had approximately 4,400 new cases in less than a week.
“This should be an alarm bell for all of us,” said Denise Driehaus, commissioner for Hamilton County, at her country briefing Thursday, adding that hospitals in the area are fast reaching capacity.
However, some restaurant owners wonder if they are partially responsible for being lower than them.
Britney Ruby Miller, president of Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment and a Cincinnati restaurant advocate, said that since restaurants can monitor customer behavior, the shutdown could very likely lead to an increase in cases when people gather in large groups at home.
“Restaurants don’t cause the problem,” she said. “I think they’re safe and taking them away will only make matters worse.”
That’s not to say everyone in the restaurant community isn’t deeply concerned about the rising number of cases.
“Our hospitals are almost full and a lot of people are pretending we’re not living in a pandemic,” Ruby Miller said.
Working with the Ohio Restaurant Association, Ruby Miller hopes to create a wish list to present to the governor that will outline how restaurants with limited capacity and heightened security protocol enforcement can stay open.
This would be the second time Governor DeWine has shut down indoor dining in Ohio. The first was in March when tens of thousands of restaurant workers in Ohio were laid off or on leave. The difference – restaurant owners are quick to point out – is that the paycheck protection program helped them keep employees paid and often prevented some restaurants and bars from closing their doors for good.
While many of them have requested the money offered as part of a collaboration between the city and the Cincinnati US Regional Chamber, they say it will not be enough to keep them through the winter.
And some can’t help but feel an impending sense of deja vu.
“Obviously it will be difficult to go over all of this again, especially as we are entering a time when al fresco dining is not an option,” said Joe Santorelli, co-owner of Arthur’s Restaurant, which has locations in Hyde Park and Anderson Township, “We are nervous, but we’re also starting to prepare. “
This preparation includes reviewing Arthur’s staffing needs and stockpiling paper products for take-away orders.
While Santorelli said its Anderson location did relatively well during the initial closings due to its huge parking lot, the Hyde Park location suffered as a result. He’s considering asking the city to charge parking in front of this location to make it more accessible to drivers who want to pick up a burger or fish tacos for dinner. The fact that winter is coming and the Hyde Park site has been successful with its outdoor deck makes the potential for closings even more daunting.
Pietoso suggests that the governor should split bars and restaurants into two different categories in his decision next week.
The heat is on:Cincinnati restaurants are struggling to decide how to prepare for winter
“When you go to a restaurant, you go with family members or a small group of friends,” he said. “You hang out with strangers in bars. You go to drink, not to eat; The degree of poisoning is higher and there is less inhibition. They are not the same. “
However, Mike Larkin, owner of Salem Gardens in Mount Washington, believes that all bars and restaurants should stay open as long as they follow protocol.
“I just wish (Governor DeWine) would investigate the violators instead of closing us all down,” he said. “We are painted with a broad brush, even though we did everything the government told us to do to protect all of our employees and guests. I don’t think it’s fair at all. “
Add to this the emotional toll that the city’s restaurant workers have taken over the past nine months. Santorelli said he shouldn’t be punished for doing his job as might be expected in these uncertain times.
“We scratched their tail off,” he said. “I don’t want to compare ourselves to doctors and nurses, but it seems we will be punished no matter what we do.”