Greater Cincinnati Bar and Restaurant Owners Discuss Impact of Coronavirus on Small Businesses

Many independent businesses operate on a fine margin and require community support to pay their employees and themselves. So how can you "shop local" during this time of CDC-recommended social distancing?

click to enlarge Stephanie Webster of The Rhined and Oakley Wines - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Stephanie Webster of The Rhined and Oakley Wines

UPDATE: On Sunday, March 15, Gov. Mike DeWine passed an order closing all bars and restaurants. This does not include carry-out or delivery.

After Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine passed an executive order on Thursday, March 12 prohibiting mass gatherings of 100 or more to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, a slew of event cancellations, venue closures and reschedulings have flooded our inboxes

That coupled with CDC guidelines about social distancing have prompted some restaurants and bars in the area to close their doors while the public and health officials figure out how to navigate this pandemic.

But many local and small businesses rely on a fine margin and have to stay open to support their employees and themselves. 

We emailed with three of them — Jose Salazar of Salazar, Mita's and Goose & Elder; Stuart MacKenzie of the Northside Yacht Club and Jerry's Jug House; and Stephanie Webster of The Rhined and Oakley Wines —  to see how they're currently dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and also how patrons can support local businesses, especially if they're practicing social distancing. 

Salazar says, "We, like most restaurants, are always very careful and obsessive about cleaning, sanitizing and personal hygiene. Of course, we have been even more attentive and diligent. We also are keeping staff who aren't feeling well out and making sure that they speak with a medical professional to be cleared before returning. We are doing everything that the government and CDC are telling us to do. We are also partnered with Uber Eats and folks can order food for pick up through our webpage."

click to enlarge Goose & Elder - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Goose & Elder

MacKenzie says that at the Northside Yacht Club and Jerry's Jug House, they have increased their routine health and safety protocols, which he says are already very strict as dictated by the Cincinnati Health Department. 

"In my 15-plus years in the business, I can reassure you that restaurants in Ohio and Kentucky already are expected to uphold strict precautions with regard to public health and safety, and our family units at both locations will be hyper-vigilant at this time to protect our patrons, staff and general public," he says. 

He added that any business with a food license in Cincinnati must have a ServSafe Level 2 Manager supervising food safety and ServSafe Level 1 Person-In-Charge serving it. Both of those courses are taught by the Cincinnati Health Department over two days and cover infectious disease and safe food handling. To get your ServSafe certificate, you must pass a test. 

"All bars/kitchens are required to have dump, wash, rinse and sanitize sinks and they even test your chlorine levels with a sanitation test strip to make sure they are powerful enough (or nor too powerful to make someone sick)," he adds.

MacKenzie says they have also printed menus on waterproof paper to disinfect them after every use, increased their linen order to make sure they have fresh towels to wipe down tables and common surfaces after each use and the staff at Jerry's Jug House and the Northside Yacht Club are also using hips, elbows and knuckles to avoid using their hands to do tasks like turning on light switches and opening doors. They also require staff to sign a contract that they will not come to work if they're sick, "which is paramount, but also already a policy we had in place to protect from the Norovirus," he says.

He also recommends singing the "Jolene" chorus while washing your hands — it's about 20 seconds.

click to enlarge Stuart MacKenzie of Jerry's Jug House and the Northside Yacht Club - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Stuart MacKenzie of Jerry's Jug House and the Northside Yacht Club

In terms of how to support either of his businesses during social distancing, MacKenzie says, "I honestly don't know. A lot of your favorite restaurants operate on a tiny margin and won't be able to take a big hit. Lots of employees live paycheck to paycheck and if business dries up, they will be out of a job. I know some people are selling gift certificates. We do Door Dash at Northside Yacht Club and carry-out at Jerry's Jug House, which will help keep business open...Everyone's health is the most important thing to us, so hopefully we can all weather the storm together and things can get back to normal."

Stephanie Webster of The Rhined and Oakley Wines says both restaurants are currently remaining open and have stepped up their sanitation, like everyone else. The Rhined has also switched to disposable cheeseboards to go. Both businesses also offer health benefits to their workers so they can seek medical care without feeling a financial burden, she says.

"As of this morning, we have put a plan in place if we are mandated to temporarily close so that we are able to still pay our staff during any potential closure. We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," she says.

Webster says that if you're stocking up on essentials, consider visiting local businesses to do so.

"Consider Findlay Market for your groceries," she says. "If you go out to eat or for a drink, please do so at local businesses. And if you can afford to do so, tip a little extra. Chains and corporations can weather a pandemic, small business just can not."

The Rhined also offers next-day delivery on cheeseboards and "are looking for ways to increase our online offerings and potentially offer same day delivery."

"I am scared. I am scared for all of the new businesses in their first year with tight cash flow. I am scared for my own businesses as we have been growing rapidly and have been hiring to meet demand and all of a sudden have a fairly 'large' staff of 13 who depend on us for their livelihood. And I am of course worried about the welfare and health of the people of our city," she says.

Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said in a press conference on March 13 that between 40 and 70 percent of populations who have seen spread of the virus end up contracting it. About 80 percent of those people experience no or mild symptoms. About five percent need hospitalization.

Visit our live blog for the latest COVID-19-related news, announcements, cancelations and other updates.
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