WYSO

Dayton Restaurants And Bars Prepare For Weeks Of Closed Doors To Slow Coronavirus

Mar 16, 2020

Restaurants and bars across the Miami Valley are preparing for what could be an indefinite shutdown. On Sunday in an effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine temporarily banned sitdown service.

The order allows takeout and delivery to continue. And it extends unemployment benefits to affected workers without paid leave. And many business owners in Dayton’s restaurant industry are urging workers to take advantage of the help.

At Lily’s Bistro on East Fifth Street, tables are stacked with chairs and pushed to the center of the dining room. A heavy canvas sheet covers the floor. Nearby, workers apply fresh paint to the walls.

The work is part of a week of renovations that was scheduled months ago, says owner Emily Mendenhall. Now, she’s unsure how long the Coronavirus containment effort could keep her restaurant closed.

“All my staff keeps being like, what a great week to do renovations and it is a great week to do renovations," she says, "but this is going to be more than a week.”

Between the bistro and Blind Bob's down the street, the Oregon District Business Association’s Mendenhall and her family employ more than 50 people.

Most will pivot to takeout and delivery service during the shutdown. But Mendenhall says the governor’s expedited unemployment policy will go a long way towards helping many of them pay the rent.

"I woke up today at 5:00 in the morning feeling more relieved than I'd felt in a while," she says, "to not feel like my employees had to wake up every day deciding, do I go to work and risk getting sick or and then also making other people sick? Or do I stay home and not be able to pay my bills? And what a decision.”

Mendenhall is offering odd jobs this week to her employees who need additional hours, and says the restaurant will feed her staff daily during their takeout and delivery shifts.

"So they have food from here that they can take home," she says.

The order to close temporarily by Gov. Mike DeWine affects more than 1,500 establishments in Dayton.
Credit Jess Mador / WYSO

The more than $24 billion restaurant and bar industry employs more than half a million people across the state.

It's unclear, says Ohio Restaurant Association spokesperson Homa Moheimani, exactly how severe the losses could be in an extended virus-related statewide shutdown.

"There is nothing to compare to this. This is completely new territory and uncharted territory," she says. "And it's going to be challenging for all Ohioans and all Americans and frankly, people all across the world, but we're really thankful that we have an opportunity to represent a really strong and resilient industry in Ohio." 

The impact is already being felt at some restaurants around the city, such as the Dublin Pub, which typically sees a boost over St. Patrick's Day.

It's, "a loss of well over $100,000.  Sadly we’ve already lost seven people from our employment," says owner Steve Tieber, "but we are delivering food, we are serving people in the parking lot and we are doing carryout orders," including of beer and wine.

The Ohio Restaurant Association is advocating for Ohioans to help keep neighborhood businesses afloat during the coronavirus by ordering takeout and delivery and buying gift cards.

"And you can still tip delivery drivers. You can still tip takeout restaurants. That's still an opportunity for consumers if they know if they choose to do that," says Moheimani.

Corner Kitchen will not be providing takeout or delivery service during the Cornavirus shutdown.

"Every delivery is another potential point of contact for the virus to spread," says chef and co-owner Jack Skilliter.

He and his partner encouraged their employees to sign up for expedited unemployment assistance and are making sure they have what they need to get by. 

Skilliter's been in close communication with his suppliers and colleagues in the industry and says he worries most for the smaller businesses with razor-thin profit margins who may not be able to survive the Coronavirus era of social distancing for long.

"It’s the smallest restaurants that could be hit hardest."

Rent and ultility bills are a burden for many small businesses, says Skilliter, who is calling for state officials to enact utility assistance for small businesses during the Coronavirus outbreak.