CUYAHOGA FALLS — City restaurants are facing the ongoing challenge of running their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The owners of Village Gardens Restaurant, Butcher & Sprout, HiHO Brewing Co. and Rocco’s Pizza said they are all receiving a lot of support from their customers as they provide carryout and in some cases, delivery service.
Tom Metlovski, owner of Village Gardens Restaurant, 2437 State Road (On Facebook under "Village Gardens Restaurant"), estimated his sales are down by about 60% since the start of restaurant closures in mid-March.
He added his business has been "very blessed" with the support he’s received from customers and noted a couple of regular patrons have made monetary donations to help him out.
"The generosity is just phenomenal," added Metlovski.
Another positive development has been the chance to "upgrade" and "revamp" the building, he said.
The bar area has been repainted and new flooring was installed, while the main dining room walls will soon get a new coat of paint.
The amount of carryout orders he receives varies from day to day, and noted Friday nights during Lent were "crazy busy."
"We do the best we can," said Metlovski.
Metlovski said he has a rotation of his employees working in the restaurant, with a couple working with him at any given time.
Popular items being ordered for carryout include Swiss steak, chicken paprikash, sandwiches, burgers, dinner specials and homemade soups. Metlovski said he’s sold "quarts and quarts" of the soups. Curbside pickup is being done and Metlovski noted some customers like to walk up to the front door to take a look inside.
While he understands people want to go out again, Metlovski said he thinks it’s important to not fully reopen "too soon."
Rocco Caponi, a partner with Rocco’s Pizza who runs the shop at 1053 Portage Trail (www.roccos-pizza.com), would likely agree his business model will help him weather the economic downturn better than many of his counterparts in the food service industry.
Caponi said 70% of his business comes from carryout orders (delivery is not offered), while the remaining 30% is generated by the pizzeria’s party room, dining room and sheet pizza offerings. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Caponi said he had to shut down both rooms, and he lost 90% of his sheet pizza business since people stopped having large gatherings.
He said the support he’s received from local customers "has been great," and has helped make up for most of the business he lost when he had to close the party and dining rooms.
"The customers have been very generous with tips," said Caponi.
Customers have also placed large orders to have food delivered to the city’s fire stations, a nursing home staff, and a hospital ER department.
Caponi noted one benefit of having to close the rooms is that it’s made him "more efficient" in running the carryout service. He added he’s kept his menu of offerings fairly simple: there are some sandwiches and chicken on the menu, but no pasta.
"We make it right," said Caponi. "We make it good."
Between his shop and the one in Stow owned by his brother Mario, Caponi said they have three full-time and 11 part-time employees. He noted he has three high school seniors working for him and observed, "I really feel bad for them." The good news is that no employees were laid off and Caponi said his staff is "working a little harder and they’re earning it."
Traditional pepperoni and cheese pizzas have remained popular, but Caponi noted the family combo of pizza and chicken is selling well during the pandemic.
"I’m very grateful that we are able to operate," stated Caponi.
Butcher & Sprout, 1846 Front St., (www.butcherandsprout.com), started offering takeout during the past few weeks, according to developer Joel Testa, who owns the restaurant with his wife Cassie, president of Butcher & Sprout.
"It is a slow ramp back up, but we are optimistic that when people get used to us being open again, sales will increase," said Testa, who added that delivery is also taking place.
With takeout, Testa said sales are down by about 75 percent compared with pre-COVID-19 conditions.
Testa said his restaurant has anywhere from four to seven employees working each shift. Before the shutdown, Testa noted he had 43 employees on the payroll, four of whom were salaried managers, but the "majority" were part-timers who work less than 30 hours per week.
"We have offered all employees to come back to work, but have not made it mandatory," said Testa. "We have increased our hourly rates to compensate for the loss in tips for the front of the house employees and made sure all … employees received extra paychecks based on their typical average earnings for the period between our last day of full operations and when the unemployment benefits kicked in."
Burgers and Brussel Sprouts are top sellers, but Testa noted brunch items are "picking up steam." He added his business is benefiting from being allowed to offer beer, wine and cocktails as takeout items.
Testa said there are "socially distant" waiting areas outside the restaurant and there is a pickup area inside the door which separates customers from employees.
"When orders are ready, the guests are sent a text and their order is on the shelves in the pickup area," he said.
Testa said he feels "very fortunate" his restaurant has a "great following" and offers a large outdoor patio.
"We think as restaurants open back up, that will be a critical factor when people decide where to go," Testa said.
Close to Butcher & Sprout, Ali Hovan, co-founder of HiHO Brewing Co., 1707 Front St. (www.hihobrewingco.com), said her business was open 40 hours a week, but since COVID-19, has operated 16 hours per week. Since dine-in restaurants had to close in mid-March, Hovan estimated sales have declined by about 30% to 50%.
Hovan, who noted she currently has five employees working, said her establishment is "staying busy with beer and pizza orders [for carryout]."
She noted HiHO’s four-packs of beer are popular, with brands such as Bossy Lady IPA, Gorges Blonde Ale, Touchdown Brown Ale, Hovan the Barbarian Imperial Stout and HiHazyHO New England IPA being sold.
"We are also selling a lot of pizza," added Hovan. "We are offering half-baked options, too, so people can cook it at home."
She said she has a tent set up for food and drink pick-up outside the building. Customers can either walk up to the tent or an employee will bring the order to the customer’s car.
She said she and her co-workers have been "blown away" by the support of the community, and noted they’re "looking forward" to fully reopening and enjoying conversations with their patrons.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.