Restaurants around Grandview Heights still planning annual holiday events despite pandemic

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Mason Kamer, a server at the DK Diner near Grandview Heights, fills a box of doughnuts for a customer Dec. 17. The diner is relying even more on carryout sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year that is nearing its end has presented an endless set of challenges for everyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That has been particularly true for restaurants, many of which again are forced to make alterations to holiday season plans and as winter weather has made outdoor seating for customers more problematic.

Two Grandview Heights-area eateries are going forward with their own annual holiday activities.

La Tavola's sixth annual Holiday Wine Shop has been converted from a one-day Black Friday festival held in the restaurant at 1664 W. First Ave. in Grandview to an online event, owner Rick Lopez said.

"With the limited numbers for gatherings due to COVID, we just weren't able to make it work as usual this year, especially given the limitations of our space," he said. "In the past, the event has given people a chance to come in, taste some wines and buy cases to take home with them."

The event features small farm wines and hand-selected bottles and arrangements from Italy and around the world, Lopez said.

The pandemic has affected business and operations at both La Tavola and Lupo, the restaurant Lopez owns in Upper Arlington.

"The biggest impact is the uncertainty, wondering if you're going to be able to stay in business if this keeps going on," he said. "There was the loss of a lot of employees at the beginning of the pandemic, when we all had to shut down for a while. You weren't sure how many of them were going to be able to come back."

La Tavola's sales will be down about 30% for the year, Lopez said.

The drop is significant but not as bad as it could have been, he said.

"A lot of that we owe to the continued support of the Grandview community," Lopez said. "They've really been there for us. We couldn't make it without them."

The problem is that social-distancing requirements have forced the removal of tables, reducing the number of people who can dine at once.

"Our indoor capacity due to the restrictions is a little less than half of what it would be normally," Lopez said. 

In normal times, about 70 people could dine inside the restaurant, he said. That number is down to about 32.

"We've had to rely a lot on carryout and curbside service," Lopez said. "Fortunately, Italian food travels well."

The restaurant is directly across from the Grandview Heights Public Library, and a number of people attending the library's weekly Music on the Lawn series during the summer usually would stop by to eat or pick up a meal to go, he said.

That was down to zero this year because there was no concert series, Lopez said.

The restaurant is on a compact site, so its outdoor seating capacity is limited and makes the use of heaters impractical, he said.

To improve the safety of the dining rooms, Lopez installed iWave commercial air-cleaning systems at both of his restaurants in the fall.

An independent lab tested the devices and found they have a high kill rate for many pathogens, including 99% for COVID-19 after 30 minutes, he said.

"We've also put dividers between the booths in our dining rooms," Lopez said.

The DK Diner has a regular base of customers who show up for breakfast or lunch or to pick up an order of doughnuts to go, general manager Anthony Teny said.

"What you really miss is the connection of seeing their faces," Teny said. "We all have to be covered up with these masks, and you don't get to see each other's smiles.

"That's kind of a big part of the diner experience," he said. "It's making that connection with your customers."

The diner's indoor seating is a little less than 50% of normal capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, although its heated patio helps, Teny said.

Although DK Diner is thought of as a Grandview establishment, it is actually within the city of Columbus, just north of Grandview at 1715 W. Third Ave.

A boost came earlier this year from a tent the diner had installed in its parking lot, Teny said.

The seating in the tent had to be eliminated because Columbus Public Health does not allow combustible heaters in tents set up in parking lots, Teny said.

"That tent got us back up to about 70% of our normal total capacity, but we've reverted back to under 50%," he said. 

DK Diner's carryout business and the additional tent allowed sales to approach about 85% of normal levels during the summer, Teny said.

Like many restaurants, the diner is relying more on carryout sales during the pandemic, he said.

"In normal times, we would probably be about 80% dine-in service," Teny said. "Now it's probably running 50/50 or only 45% dine-in."

The diner is proceeding with plans for its New Year's Eve Bash, which will be held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 1 at the diner.

"We've done this for about six years, and it includes a pig roast, drink specials and a special menu, including pork and sauerkraut," Teny said. "We're having to do it a little differently this year, with more carryout items and pre-orders."

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