When dine-in areas of restaurants were forced to close by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local eateries were forced to either adopt a new or elevated model of delivery, pickup or curbside service, find another way to stay in business, or close their doors with hopes that dine-in would be allowed again in the near future.
Dan Molnar, who lives in Macedonia and is a graduate from Nordonia High School, owns and operates SWAT Food Truck (https://www.swatfoodtruck.com/), which does a lot of business in catering and events — both which have taken a major hit.
"Our sales are less than 50 percent of what they are normally," Molnar said. "Normally, we are always going to downtown Cleveland for events, but now those have fallen off because of all of the businesses being closed. Those businesses that are open have cut back. They can’t afford to pay for their employees to eat. We don’t know when it will be possible to do graduation parties. We are used to doing 50 to 100 people."
Currently, Molnar, who is going into his fifth year in the business, said there is a truck parked in the corner of Valley View and 82, "but that’s temporary. We will have to move soon." SWAT includes three food trucks, he added, "but we are struggling to keep one busy. We are trying to integrate."
Molnar said he’s trying things such as specials.
"On Saturdays, we have baby back rib specials and pulled pork," Molnar said. "Wednesdays are Wing Wednesdays. Thursdays, we serve our gourmet burgers with free fries."
SWAT Food truck placed first for best cheeseburger with its Cheddar Bomb at the National Hamburger Fest in 2016 in Akron — another event canceled this year, Molnar said. In 2017, two of its burgers placed second and third, he added. The meat for the hamburgers is locally sourced, he added. "It makes a big difference in our burgers."
"Support from community has been really great," Molnar said. "People have been stopping by to try, then taking to social media raving how good our food is."
The pandemic has not made business easy, however, Molnar said.
"It’s very stressful for small business owners to not know what is happening day to day, week to week, when this is our sole income," he said.
Patty D’Angelo, the wife of Jimmy D’Angelo, who owns Casa D’Angelo’s in Macedonia (https://www.casadangelo.com/), said that business has been down by about half. However, the carryout business "is tremendous, and our customers are loyal and very generous."
"We are encouraging ordering on line at https://www.casadangelo.com/ through Chow Now," Patty said. "This provides a no contact pick-up since your payment is done through the secure Chow Now App. We are having customers enter through our main entrance and exit thru our bar to minimize interactions and maintain social distancing."
Patty said the restaurant has streamlined its menu for carryout but will make some exceptions upon request.
"Except Eggplant - sorry about that for all of you eggplant lovers," Patty said. "We are 90 percent done with our remodeling and can't wait to welcome our customers to a dine-in experience again. We will follow the guidelines provided by Governor DeWine and his committee of restaurateurs he put together to open restaurants."
Bonney Navarro, who operates Compadres Mexican Grill (https://compadresgrillohio.com/) with her husband Gerardo, said they found out the Sunday afternoon before the date of the ordered shut down of dine-in restaurants.
"We were not prepared," Navarro said. "We were not prepared to jut focus on to-go orders. That first week after we closed, it was tough for us. We tried to operate for a week, but it was not really working."
They decided to take a week and a half break "to figure out what we were going to do," Navarro said.
"We never had a lot of business in curbside or to-go," she said.
The Navarros decided to go from operating seven days a week to only Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. One reason for the shorter week and hours was the loss of the afternoon lunch crowds due to the businesses around them, such as MGM Northfield, having to close down due to the state order. In addition, family packs and family dinners were added to the menu, and they ordered larger carry-out style boxes for these. The Navarros also had to train their staff on delivering curbside orders.
"We don’t have online ordering yet, but we are aiming to do that in the future," Navarro said.
Even with Gov. Mike DeWine announcing the timetable for when restaurants could reopen, Navarro said they will keep their current operating schedule for now.
"I feel like in the beginning people are going to be afraid to come in," Navarro said. "We will need to adjust our floor plan so people can feel safe."
DeWine announced May 7 that the state would lift the order against dining on-site at the state’s restaurant facilities, with precautions.
Dine-in service outside can resume May 15; dining inside can start again May 21.
Restrictions include social distancing of six feet when possible, and installing barriers when not; masks for employees unless there is a safety reason not to wear one; a maximum of 10 guests in a party; and marking waiting areas with safe distancing designations. For details, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.
April Helms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org