Whitehall restaurants preparing for colder weather

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Although King Gyros Greek Restaurant has a patio, owner Yianni Chalkias said he plans to reopen the restaurant’s indoor dining room with winter weather approaching.

Customers at many restaurants have enjoyed outdoor patios even through early November, when central Ohio enjoyed daytime temperatures in the high 70s.

But winter is coming, and restaurant operators must determine how to maintain social distancing when outdoor dining might not be an option during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – and an increasing number of COVID-19 cases makes continued indoor dining uncertain on every level.

In Whitehall, relatively few restaurants have patio spaces, but city officials will collaborate with restaurants to find the best possible solutions, said Jenna Goehring, economic-development manager for the city.

“Our restaurants don’t have a ton of patio space (but) we encourage our restaurants to reach out to us about what kind of solutions we can find,” Goehring said.

Many of the city’s restaurants are in strip centers or small parcels along East Broad Street, East Main Street and South Hamilton Road and do not provide ample areas for patios or outdoor seating.

Although there is no data specific to where restaurant patios are more or less prevalent, a recent survey of restaurants in the state by the Ohio Restaurant Association indicated that 60% of respondents indicated they lacked outdoor space of any kind.

“This is so unprecedented and difficult for restaurants,” said Homa Lily Moheimani, manager of media and communications for the ORA.

Moheimani said the ORA fears that many restaurants, often operating on small profit margins in ordinary times, will not remain open after winter.

“Those that already had a good carryout businesses will fare better, but others facing capacity restrictions and without outdoor options might not,” said Moheimani, who acknowledged that restaurants in some urban areas, like those in Whitehall, more often lack adequate outdoor seating.

According to the ORA's biweekly survey that was conducted Oct. 23 to 26, 34% of respondents plan to use portable heaters to encourage outdoor dining and 16% plan to use tents.

Among those is 2 Tones Brewing Co., 4539 E. Broad St. in Whitehall.

The owners of 2 Tones Brewing Co. reached out to the city to ask about erecting a tent in the parking lot of the business at East Broad Street and Santa Maria Lane.

Whitehall's 2 Tones Brewing Co. set up this tent in its parking lot 4539 E. Broad St. in preparation for colder temperatures.

“We put a tent up a couple of weeks ago,” co-owner Anthony McKeivier said Nov. 6.

He and his business partner, Tony Hill, opened 2 Tones last year.

“We were, of course, concerned at first,” McKeivier said about the ability of their business, still in its infancy, to survive the pandemic.

But when he and other restaurant owners were allowed to resume indoor operations in May, after Gov. Mike DeWine had ordered the closure of restaurants and bars to dine-in customers in the early days of the pandemic in March, McKeivier said, he was pleased that customers returned.

In mid-summer, they placed several picnic tables in the 2 Tones parking lot to provide some additional room.

The few tables inside the brewery already were 6 feet apart before social-distancing requirements kicked in, but the business lost the ability to have patrons seated at the bar – where most typically would sit, McKeivier said.

“It was slow at first, but (our business) picked back up and we had a good month (in October)," he said.

In mid-October, McKeivier said, he and Hill set up a tent in the parking lot to provide patrons shelter in the winter.

For 2 Tones, the tent was allowed without a need for a permit or a variance, but that might not always be the case, Goehring said.

“So far, only 2 Tones has reached out to us, but we will work with our restaurants to do what we can to accommodate them, she said.

Others will not count on outdoor dining during the winter months, even as in an address to the state Nov. 11, DeWine also hinted that indoor dining again could be reduced like during the early days of the pandemic if the state's number of daily COVID-19 cases did not decrease.

Although King Gyros Greek Restaurant, a Whitehall institution since 1991, has a patio at 400 S. Hamilton Road, owner Yianni Chalkias plans to reopen the restaurant’s indoor dining room, something he has not done even after DeWine allowed for it, he said.

Chalkias said his takeout and drive-thru operations have sustained King Gyro during the pandemic.

But Chalkias said he still wants to open the dining room rather than make any patio modifications, such as enclosures or heaters.

Social-distancing requirements will reduce the dining room capacity from about 75 to 40, Chalkias said, “but I think people will rather be inside.”

However, the patio will remain open during the winter, he said.

Mary Arcand, owner of Jumbo’s Sub Shop at 560 S. Yearling Road, said the onset of winter would not change operations much for her restaurant.

Jumbo’s has several picnic tables on the north side of the business, but most of Arcand's business is carryout, she said. She also does not plan any changes to the small patio.

“But I let a few customers at a time eat inside if they want,” Arcand said.

Whitehall restaurants considering changing or creating outdoor seating areas are encouraged to call the city’s development department at 614-545-9702, Goehring said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo