Supporting Area Restaurants Is More Important Now Than Ever

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided

It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but those who make their living in the restaurant industry have been hit especially hard during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, area restaurants were forced to shutter for months and owners had to temporarily lay off staff. Adson Franco, owner of Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, recalls that moment as the hardest day of his life.

“We are like family here,” Franco says.

That’s why his happiest day was the day he got to call everyone back to work.

When they reopened in May, the outlook was tenuous as life still felt so uncertain.

“We didn’t know which way this was going to go – whether we would be busy or not,” Franco says.

Hiring back his entire staff was a chance he was willing to take since he knew they were struggling financially.

“Servers make just $2.13 an hour, so pretty much all of their revenue comes from tips,” Franco says.

Not only were restaurant owners happy to reopen their doors, but customers were also eager to walk through them again. After weeks of home-cooked meals, many patrons were delighted to enjoy a dining experience outside of their home. Customers were welcomed with open arms, grateful hearts and a promise to do everything possible to keep them safe. This included following the CDC as well as state and local guidelines, such as adding hand sanitizing stations and touchless soap dispensers, sanitizing booths and tables, and rearranging dining rooms to accommodate for proper social distancing.

Leaders at many spots like Matteo’s also began requiring reservations to ensure better control of customer flow in dining areas. Many restaurants have suspended water service and no longer keep silverware or menus at tables.

“Since March, we’ve had to be creative in ways we didn’t think we ever would,” says Kim Kercheval, owner of Jan’s Village Pizza.

Some elderly and immunocompromised patrons still want to partake in yummy food, but are reluctant to dine in. Therefore, many restaurants have stepped up their game when it comes to online ordering and delivery services. Restaurant owners appreciate customers who utilize these services directly rather than app-based delivery services, because what many people may not realize is that such app-based services take a portion of each restaurant’s revenue – anywhere from 25% to 40%.

“That’s a big bite out of our profits, so it’s helpful if customers can come in and pick up the food themselves,” Franco says.

Kent McNall, owner of Pasto Italiano, notes that if a customer places a $100 carry-out order with an app-based service, he only gets 70% of it.

“It’s best for customers to call and pick up the food themselves,” McNall says. “Not only does the money go straight to the restaurant rather than a third-party vendor, but also the food is fresh.”

Many restaurants, like Jan’s Village Pizza, offer contactless delivery.

“Whether you call the pizza shop, order online, or order through our app, all of our menu items are available for delivery,” Kercheval says.

Convenient curbside delivery enables customers to place an order, park outside the establishment, pop their trunk, and have staff members place the food there. Kercheval is delighted to see her customers, even if just briefly when they pop in to pick up a carry-out order.

“When you order carry-out, it gives us an opportunity to safely interact with our amazing customers,” Kercheval says. “Whether you come inside to pick up or we bring it out curbside, we love seeing you.”

Purchasing gift cards is another way to show your love for local establishments.

“Those gift cards help us in the short-term get through this rough patch until the vaccine is widely distributed,” says Blake Fogelsong, owner and director of operations for Clancy’s Inc., which operates Grindstone Public House, Grindstone on the Monon and Michaelangelo’s Italian Bistro. “Every little bit helps.”

Fogelsong notes that his company sold about $40,000 in gift cards over the holiday season.

Franco saw an uptick in the purchase of gift cards as well, and many customers have told him they won’t use them until things are back to normal.

“When you buy gift cards, you are also helping to support a small business,” Kercheval says. “Buying gift cards lets us know that we are a favorite to so many people.”

Gift cards helped restaurants remain buoyant during a holiday season that took a huge hit. Franco reports that he lost 70% of private-event business in December compared to the prior year.

“It was definitely not the December we are used to,” Franco says. “If the vaccine rollout goes smoothly, however, community members may be itching to get back out there to enjoy their favorite eateries. We hope so. I just want to thank our customers for their support. Without them, we would not have made it so far.”

Fogelsong also wishes to acknowledge his company’s loyal patrons who helped them endure a rough 2020.

“Thank you for supporting all of the restaurants in Hamilton County,” Fogelsong says. “We look forward to having a better 2021.”

Kercheval is also thankful.

“The entire crew at Village Pizza would like to thank the community for all the support during this unpredictable time,” Kercheval says. “We thank you for staying loyal. Without you, we’re just dough.”

McNall, who is proud of the dining atmosphere at Pasta Italiano, looks forward to the day when he can add back tables that had to be removed for distancing.

“We have a nice, casual fine-dining experience, with dark tablecloths and cloth napkins,” McNall says. “We have instrumental jazz on Wednesdays and a piano player on Fridays to create an intimate atmosphere.”

Considering the difficult year we endured, we could all use an extra dose of positivity, so if you have a great experience at one of your local restaurants, share a comment, photo or video on the social media pages you are engaged with, and tag the restaurant. If you happen to have a negative experience, contact the management directly so that they may address it and do their best to remedy the situation.

We humbly thank all local restaurants for keeping our tummies happy and our hearts full. We support and appreciate you.

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