Restaurant, bar owners slam Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposal to ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposal to cut off alcohol sales at restaurants and bars at 10 p.m. nightly was met mostly with frustration from Greater Cleveland restaurant and bar owners.
Several said DeWine’s approach punishes all bars and restaurants for the actions of a few bad apples. They want the governor to take more aggressive enforcement action against establishments violating the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines, saying it would be fairer and do more to control the spread of the virus.
“I’d love to see the science behind it. Where’s the science?” said John Lane of the Winking Lizard, whose company has been in business for 37 years and has multiple locations throughout Northeast Ohio. “Is there contact tracing that says we’ve got an inordinate amount of cases coming out of bars and restaurants? They already gave us restrictions on what we’re supposed to do. And how about the operators doing absolutely everything that the governor wants us to do? Where’s the enforcement for those that aren’t? Why penalize everyone because a few people are not abiding by the guidelines?”
The blanket 10 p.m. cut-off time, which DeWine outlined at his Thursday’s press conference, would affect the entire industry across the state without setting distinctions between bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The restriction – aimed at preventing late-night mass gatherings where social distancing can break down – would require places to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. but would give customers until 11 p.m. to finish their drinks.
DeWine asked the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to hold a hearing Friday morning and enact the proposal. If the commission adopts it, DeWine said he will sign it immediately and the restrictions will go into effect Friday night.
Lane says a 10 p.m. cutoff of alcohol sales would have have an impact on Winking Lizard’s bottom line.
“It won’t affect all of our stores … but a few of our stores for sure we anticipate another 15 to 20 percent hit, he said. “We’re already not anywhere close to where we were last year. Now we’re taking another hit.”
DeWine’s proposal remains perplexing to Lane, who is left with more questions than answers.
“We’ve done everything the governor has asked us to do. We practiced social distancing, our staff all wear masks. We don’t give anyone a break; you’ve got to wear a mask to come in,” said Lane. ”Why not enforce the bad apples?” Lane said.
Eric Ho of LBM, a popular Viking-themed cocktail bar in Lakewood, also has to figure out how to operate under the more restrictive measures.
LBM has eased back into its reopening, offering takeout options and limited dine-in service for the past few months. But the bar thrives on its final four hours of service, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Ho said.
“If he restricts those last four hours of service, essentially he’s taking away one of our busiest times,” Ho said. “We can lose up to 40% of our income based on tips.”
Though Ho said he’ll happily follow DeWine’s rules, he views the governor’s rulings as reactive, instead of proactive.
“To me, it seems more like he’s applying a Band-Aid over a wound and he’s not really solving the root of the issue – which, to me, is holding other business owners accountable for the coronavirus-related infractions,” Ho said. “My big thing right now is just making sure that the government knows or has a plan on enforcing any of the things they do. It’s all unclear — and leaving it down to the business owners or citizens in general.”
Speaking on a day when 1,733 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Ohio, DeWine did acknowledge a landscape that is being divided to some extent by cautious vs. irresponsible restaurant owners. And he added the drinks-carryout rule – an action that began during the pandemic – will be expanded from two drinks per order to three.
“Let me just say to our bar owners most of you are doing a phenomenal job. You’re following the directions, you’re doing everything you can to keep your bar open. Sadly, not every bar is doing that.
“This last week our Ohio Investigative Unit found bars where no social-distancing safety measures were in place. Patrons were packed on outside patios, and dance floors were full of people shoulder to shoulder. But actors like this as I said are outliers. There is, however, an inherent problem connected with bars. They do lend themselves to people going in and out, in close contact with each other, many, many times indoor.”
While some folks remain in one location, he said, others bar hop, but “either way they are interacting with a lot of people.”
That interaction is what he is trying to prevent.
The owners of Market Garden Brewery also did their part in trying to stem the potential spread of the virus. They did not open in May, when the state allowed restaurants and bars to re-open, waiting instead until July, focusing on getting the Ohio City brewpub ready, redoing the menu, and working on adding space to West 25th Street. That space was gained through the use of parklets. Jersey barriers are positioned to allow for more outdoor dining space with social-distancing measures in place.
So it’s no surprise that the governor’s announcement Thursday elicited frustration.
“I respect his science-based approach, and we’re going to abide by his directive just like we have all his others,” said Sam McNulty, one of the owners. “It’s unfortunate that a few bad actors that are flagrantly ignoring the prior restrictions are bringing on more restrictions for the entire industry.
“A few bad apples have destroyed this entire bushel.”
McNulty continued: “If the governor enforced the prior restrictions and had real teeth in the penalties then these businesses would have cleaned up their acts and obeyed … then we’d be that much closer to normalcy.”
He said Market Garden was “already doing a small percentage of our normal business with the prior restrictions. This is going to shrink down that percentage, unfortunately. Our philosophy is we’re going to open earlier.”
Another place feeling the weight of financial challenges is Society Lounge. The cocktail bar in Cleveland’s East 4th Street neighborhood already has been financially struggling during the pandemic. It’s a key reason why owner Joseph Fredrickson decided to get moving with his new Sixth City Sailor’s Club concept, which will open in August in the former Hodge’s, a restaurant that closed nearby last year.
The new restriction on hours would add stress on the business, which is busiest from 8 p.m. until it closes at midnight – but Fredrickson didn’t criticize DeWine’s decisions.
“I try to focus on my team and stay within the rules we’re set to. I try not to place judgment on those who are trying to control an entire state,” Frederickson said.
He continued: “We need to make sacrifices to curve things and I hope others can get the necessary support to make it through. As for us, we will do what we need to operate within the guidelines. It’ll be critical for some and will hurt us for sure, but we have to listen to the experts.”Because the rule would apply to all bars, Fredrickson believes there’s a chance that the hours could shift peoples’ socializing times to earlier in the evening.
Because the rule would apply to all bars, Fredrickson believes there’s a chance that the hours could shift peoples’ socializing times to earlier in the evening.
The double whammy for Society Lounge – and any place in downtown Cleveland – is the added alcohol-cutoff-sales time comes as businesses are already feeling the void of entertainment and sports options. Society Lounge is making about 25% of what it earned this time last year, Fredrickson said.
States are approaching the same challenge in a variety of ways. Michigan closed indoor service at bars that earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales. This week, Columbus City Council voted to close bars, restaurants and nightclubs at 10 p.m., but the courts delayed that vote after restaurants sued to block the order.
“I think for some of our businesses across the state, particularly those that are just bars, it’s an additional restriction. It’s difficult for them right now already,” John Barker, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Restaurant Association, told cleveland.com. “Many already are struggling, most are hemorrhaging. This is a challenge.”
He did say the organization is “pleased to see the number of drinks expanded from two to three (regarding carryout). That’s the kind of step we would ask our government officials to consider taking a look at, including now that these additional restrictions are coming on.
“It’s time to have conversations about things like maybe property-tax and payroll-tax relief. Maybe some of these business could be eligible for grants to help with all these mounting expenses they have. They all have tremendous PPE (personal protective equipment) expenses.”
DeWine made it clear he is trying to attack the problem, not the players.
“We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants. That would be devastating to them,” he said. “But we do have to take some action and see what kind of results we get from this action.”
But Barker added that a recent survey says 31 percent of people in the restaurant-hospitality business said if these conditions continue they won’t make it another nine months.