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Coronavirus In Ohio: Restaurants Close Their Doors Voluntarily As Cases Explode

Greg Lehman is one of the owners of Watershed Distillery.
Courtesy of Watershed
Greg Lehman is one of the owners of Watershed Distillery.

This week, Watershed Kitchen and Bar announced it would remain closed for the rest of 2020, without ever having reopened following the state's shutdown of restaurants.

The restaurant has closed since the statewide shutdown order came in March. Gov. Mike DeWine allowed restaurants to resume limited indoor service two months ago, but owner Greg Lehman decided to keep the doors closed through at least the end of the year. 

“We just couldn’t find a comfortable solution. One where we could be open and our employees and customers could be safe and we could create the experience that people have come to know with Watershed distillery,” he says.

Watershed is the latest Ohio restaurant to shutter its dining rooms voluntarily, despite having no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on staff or among patrons. The bar Bottle Shop and pastry/breakfast joint Fox in the Snow recently made similar calls, which came as coronavirus cases spike in Franklin County and around the state.

“Even if we do a great job as a community to get there in the next two months, three months, as soon as we’re there and we pull all the masks off and sit close together, we’re going to create an environment where the disease spreads again,” Lehman says.

Watershed has the advantage of its distillery, which will continue to produce and sell liquor and hand sanitizer, even as the dining room remains closed.

“Our [decision] was definitely easier, because everybody out there that has a business is trying to keep food on their own table, they’re trying to pay their rent, they’re trying to pay their bills, they’re trying to keep their business going while stay safe at the same time,” Lehman says. “We were fortunate that the distillery is here and doing well enough that we don’t have to open.”

Lehman is fairly confident they’ll be able to re-open in 2021.

“If I was just a restaurant, I don’t know if I could answer in the same way," he says. "And that’s the real challenge for some of these locally owned and operated restuarants."

But the exact date is still an open question.

“We need to have a vaccine or treatment before we can get to the point where people can sit close together and eat and drink without masks on," he says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.