Curfew Rollback A 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel' For Local Restaurants
Cleveland-area restaurant and bar owners say Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to roll back the state’s curfew one hour beginning Thursday is a sign of hope after a long year for the industry.
The curfew, which previously began at 10 p.m., kept customers from coming in in the evenings, said Constantine Katsaros, co-owner of the Landmark on Cleveland’s West Side, particularly during Browns games, when the restaurant would normally see a lot of traffic.
“With the games that started at 8:30 or 8 o’clock, it was very difficult to get anyone to come out,” Katsaros said, “because they would have to be driving home potentially during the second quarter, and they don’t want to miss part of the game.”
Even just the extra hour could bring in additional customers for evening activities, Katsaros said, both at Landmark and neighboring Twist Social Club.
“It’s going to be a massive help, even going to 11, but we’re really looking forward to the time we can open up full bore and kind of be back to normal, absolutely,” Katsaros said. “It’s kind of hard to get folks to be wanting to sing karaoke at 7 or 8 at night. It’s more of a 9, 10, 11, midnight activity.”
There’s also more optimism from staff, Katsaros said, as the state continues its vaccine rollout and indicators of coronavirus spread continue to fall.
The curfew change comes because Ohio’s overall hospitalizations for COVID-19 have remained below 3,500 for seven consecutive days. If hospitalization drop below 3,000 for seven days, the curfew will move to midnight, DeWine explained this week, with a further drop eventually leading to the curfew being lifted entirely.
Getting customers to leave before 10 p.m. has been a struggle, said Chocolate Bar owner Dominic Fanelli. Staff have started alerting customers of the curfew a half hour in advance, he said, but many still aren’t ready to leave when it’s time to clear out the bar.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher every weekend to let people be aware of that, so this will definitely help,” Fanelli said.
But lifting the curfew will only solve part of the problem, he said. Downtown foot traffic has dropped over the course of the pandemic, he said, and so has business in the restaurant.
“There’s still not any events in Downtown Cleveland to bring people from the suburbs back,” Fanelli said.
The delayed curfew will help with some of the issues, he said, but it isn’t going to fix the full impact of the coronavirus on local restaurants.
Some restaurant and bar owners are opting to keep locations closed for a little while longer. Market Garden Brewery’s bar and restaurant opened for the summer, but closed down again when restrictions tightened up in the fall. The bar will remain closed until stay-at-home advisories at the county and city level – along with the statewide curfew – are removed, said co-owner Sam McNulty.
“All five restaurants are in hibernation right now, and I have about 170 employees furloughed,” McNulty said. “We’re hoping and praying this is our last wave of closures and restrictions, and that we can all get back to living and working and playing, enjoying ourselves.”
The curfew rollback will help plenty of local establishments, McNulty said, and it’s a sign of good things to come. Vaccine distribution is also a step toward recovery for the dining industry, he said.
“It indicates there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s exciting to see the vaccine rollout. I think we’re all anxious to see it done more efficiently and a little faster,” McNulty said. “I feel very optimistic about the second half of 2021.”
For now, though, the tendency to paint restaurants and bars as the reason for the coronavirus spread isn’t helping, McNulty said. The consequence of sending people out the door early, he said, is that they go somewhere else to drink and eat where safety measures aren’t being enforced.
“People are just going back to homes and apartments, where there’s no safety protocols in place,” McNulty said.
The extra hour before curfew helps bars more than it does restaurants, said Brandon Chrostowski, founder and president of Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Shaker Square.
“If you have an hour to serve longer, you might get a few guests. It’s not going to move the needle, just like to-go cocktails didn’t move the needle tremendously,” Chrostowski said. “But those add up to a better, more economical and sustainable business, but it’s not the difference-maker.”
What’s really going to help restaurants out, he said, is improving public perception of them to convince the public it is safe to go out and eat.
“That’s the biggest help right now, would be the campaign and the dialogue and energy out here promoting going out to eat,” Chrostowski said. “It helps that public perception of what restaurants are, and that they’re safe again.”