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Coronavirus In Ohio: Restaurants And Bars Switch To Carryout, Or Close Entirely

Huong Pham and Twee Win run Huong Vietnamese Restaurant on Columbus' North Side.
Gabe Rosenberg
Huong Pham and Twee Win run Huong Vietnamese Restaurant on Columbus' North Side.

Many food establishments are facing tough choices as they approach the third week of Ohio's shutdown of bars and dine-in restaurants. In the Columbus area, some are offering carryout service to keep their business alive, while others are laying off all their employees.

Arepazo owner Carolina Gutierrez decided to shut down her restaurants in Gahanna and the Brewery District on March 30, after attempting to switch to carryout service. All 41 of her employees have been furloughed.

Gutierrez says there are too many health concerns as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“We just thought that it was not safe," Gutierrez says. “And I can’t risk my staff to get sick and bring something home. We have little kids. My daughter has asthma.”

Gutierrez says she is cutting her costs as much as she can.

“All of our bills right now or rent, we have made partial payments, we have deferred payments,” she says. "We have cut services like Direct TV or towels or linens for the restaurant because we obviously are not using it.”

John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, says that for upscale and family-style restaurants, business is down anywhere from 50-90%.

“No one can survive that,” Barker said Friday on WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher. “You can’t even cover your basic bills certainly when your numbers are down like that. It’s tough.”

Ohio boasted about 585,000 restaurant and food service workers before the coronavirus pandemic. Most of those people now don’t have a job because the Ohio Department of Health's order closing dine-in restaurants and bars. Takeout, drive-thru and delivery is still allowed, but for establishments built around table service, it's a tough transition to make. 

Some restaurants are trying to make the carryout service work, but at Huong Vietnamese Restaurant on the North Side, Twee Win says business is down as much as 60%. Win says she’s using social media to drum up business and remind people the restaurant is open for takeout.

“We’ve never done this before, but we added curbside service to kind of allow people, if they are afraid to enter a building to touch doors, or touch credit card payment machines, to pay over the phone and then we will bring the order out to their cars,” Win says. “So that’s something we’ve added to try to get more customers to come out.”

The upscale Refectory on the Northwest Side is offering carryout too. Owner Kamal Boulos says he's lost about 90% of his business.

“Well, we obviously shut down our business as we know it,” Boulos too. “And we pivoted and did what we could to create a carryout menu, and that’s what’s keeping us occupied. It’s not going to be the difference in us staying open or not. But it just keeps a few of our staff employed full-time.” 

There is some help coming in the way of low-interest Small Business Administration loans. But the Ohio Restaurant Association says that the paycheck protection program to maintain employees pay won’t solve some of the bigger budget issues restaurants face.

“All these bills are starting to stack up and our restaurant owners, as they start to dig into these programs under the CARES Act, what we’re finding is they’re good but not enough,” Barker says.

While liquor shops remain open as an "essential" business under Ohio's stay-at-home order, bars and breweries are having to get even more creative. Downtown upscale restaurant Veritas closed its doors but is offering wine sales online. Breweries like Wolf’s Ridge, Growl, Platform and Seventh Son are selling growlers or six packs for pickup or delivery.

Distilleries like Watershed and Middle West Spirits, which normally make gin and whiskey, have pivoted to producing hand sanitizerfor first responders and the general public.

“People are worried,” says Barker. “You know they’re really worried about surviving, surviving all of this.”

Find a running list of local restaurants and bars that remain open for carryout or delivery on Columbus Alive.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.