HUDSON — The state stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential business due to the coronavirus pandemic has hit the restaurant industry especially hard, and local businesses say they have only been able to stay at work by providing takeout meals to loyal customers, in addition to massive layoffs of hard-working employees.
"It’s crazy times, but hopefully we’ll muddle through," said Arno Kremer, general manager of Yours Truly Restaurant, at 36 S. Main Street.
The restaurant’s 50 Hudson staffers have been cut to a dozen since the state ordered non-essential businesses to close in March. An exception to the closure for restaurants and other food service businesses was allowed, provided they restricted service to delivery or carry-out orders.
Like other entrepreneurial firms, family-owned Yours Truly opted to keep its 10 greater Cleveland-area locations open. (https://ytr.com/)
"We want to be here for our community and our customers," said the chain’s Hudson manager, Art Shibley. "We want to keep things as normal as possible."
Kremer said that the community has stepped up as well by placing more orders than usual, and by leaving generous tips, which are split among all of the staff.
The pandemic restrictions came at a particularly bad time for Oak and Embers, located at 7774 Darrow Road. (http://oakandembers.com/)
The brand’s sister location in Chesterland was joined by a new location at Pinecrest in Orange Village in December, said owner Gretchen Garofoli.
"Just as we started getting into our groove, this happened," she said, adding business has definitely dropped, "but the community has been supporting us."
She said about 50 employees at the three locations have been cut to a total of around 12.
"We’ve laid off the majority of our staff, unfortunately," she said. "If there’s just not the business for them, I can’t afford to bring them in ... I’m down to managers and supervisors."
Thus far, the chain has been able to keep things afloat with takeout orders; the most popular items being family-style meals including signature barbecue.
"As soon as I get the green light, we’ll try to get reopened ... my heart breaks for my staff that we weren’t able to bring in, but we’re not a large chain with long purse strings to hang on to," she said.
Garofoli, as well as Kremer, said both Oak and Embers and Yours Truly should be able to make it through these lean times.
So will Zeppe’s Bistro and Pizzaria, said owner Steven Ciresi, who noted the business is celebrating its 25th year. (https://zeppesbistro.com/)
"No, we’re not going under," he said. "We’ve been real big at trying to maintain our bills, keep our staff ratio very low, and build lines of credit ... We’ve been trying to build our reserves, but I never thought we would have to build our reserves for reasons like this."
The restaurant at 5843 Darrow Road has seen its business drop nearly in half.
"It’s been crazy, chaotic ... we’re down about 46% since just before the middle of March," he said, noting the dining room had seen business drop even before that due to fears about coronavirus.
Ciresi said the restaurant’s dining room had been responsible for about 62% of the restaurant’s business and takeout orders have made up some of the difference. Like other food-service businesses, the drop in revenue has not been sufficient to maintain staff.
"We went from about 56 employees down to about 19 — that’s tough," he said, adding, "I haven’t had a paycheck in six weeks."
Lager and Vine Gastropub and Wine Bar, at 30 West Streetsboro Street, has seen business drop much more dramatically — owner Cliff Cravens said the enterprise is only doing about 25% of its previous norm. (http://www.lagerandvine.com/)
Accordingly, the downtown venue has had to cut staff from 35 to three, with owner Cliff Cravens, his wife and two children pitching in to help keep the eight-year-old business afloat.
"We’ve got two cooks and our chef ... my son’s the delivery driver and my daughter is the one who answers the phone," he said.
Cravens said he, like other restaurateurs, were forced to shift to the restricted business model with almost no notice.
He heard the state order announced and "All of a sudden it was, ‘Wait — we’re closed tomorrow.’
"It all happened on a Sunday afternoon. We were like, ‘Now what do we do? What’s the plan?’" he said.
A little bit of help came when the state changed rules to allow two take-out drinks with orders.
However, "Not as many people are ordering drinks as you would have thought," he said. "You get a cocktail or two here and there ... maybe one of the good things that comes out of this mess is maybe they will let us continue to offer this."
Moving forward, he said there are plenty of uncertainties regarding reopening. For one, he said it’s unclear how many people will be comfortable going out to dine once restrictions are lifted. For another, it may not be possible to operate at half-capacity, which has been discussed as a potential restriction.
"I would say that any restaurant that says it can operate at half capacity and make it for very long, would be lying," he said. "We’ve got to start making money again."
One local restaurant that has avoided layoffs is Don Patron Mexican Grill, at 5835 Darrow Road. (https://donpatronhudson.com/)
Owner Josue Carrera said the restaurant has 10 employees and noted business is down 25%, adding "The people are supporting us — we are doing OK."
Carrera said the state’s easing of restrictions on liquor sales has helped a bit.
"The people like margaritas and liquor, so we make a little more money on the drinks," he said. He noted a pitcher of margaritas does not count as one drink, but added margaritas and cheese dip are close to the top of most popular orders.
He said other top-sellers include fajitas and Burritos Durango and Burritos Patron.
"We are a family in this restaurant — the customers are my family too. I give thanks to God — He supports me and my employees here," he said.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.