These days, Cleveland Independents acting executive director Myra G. Orenstein ends every text and email with “Stay safe, stay well.”
What normally could be construed as a platitude is naturally serious business during the coronavirus pandemic, However, Orenstein’s tag also applies to locally owned independent restaurants, which are struggling to survive after being forced to close last week as the public self-quarantines and practices social distancing.
Restaurateurs are now pinning their hopes on surviving the virus by offering meals via carryout and delivery, as well as selling gift cards.
“What we’re doing on a daily basis at our Cleveland Independents website is posting open restaurants, because more owners are coming online to do delivery or takeout,” Orenstein said. “Also, some are closing. We’re encouraging people to sign up for our e-newsletter group so they’re on top of what’s happening.”
What’s happening is unprecedented, with each restaurant doing what it can to keep its doors open and as many workers employed as possible. For anyone who has ever worked in food service or hospitality, there’s a strong family bond that Orenstein said she continues to witness.
“I’m so lucky to work with this group, because they always put other people first,” Orenstein said. “A lot of the owners are way more concerned about how their employees are faring than themselves.
“I know a few opened home equity lines in order to pay their employees. They’re really trying to play this day by day.”
Currently Orenstein is in the process of creating a strategic task force of established multi-unit operators to not only handle the current situation, but also after the pandemic passes to get people back in their doors.
The fear is each restaurant that closes its doors may never reopen. Orenstein said hospitality is a main resource for Northeast Ohio that has truly put the area on a national map. So the onus is now squarely on the consumers’ shoulders to keep frequenting their favorite spots.
“I saw in a trade publication that if people decided to do takeout or delivery the number of times they normally went out to eat, then a lot of restaurants could stay afloat,” Orenstein said. “Restaurants want everybody to know they’re following all of the guidelines in terms of cleanliness. They’re taking it very seriously.”
The same goes for Melt Bar and Grilled owner and founder Matt Fish, who made the decision to adjust hours at his eight locations while offering takeout and delivery.
“We’re going to ride this thing out as long as we can,” Fish said. “The main reason is to ensure we as a company — Melt Bar and Grille, which employs more than 300 people in Northeast Ohio — can reopen after this as a full-service operation and bring our entire staff back. We’ve had to lay some people off, unfortunately, but we’re keeping our core managers on.”
So far the public has been taking advantage of Melt’s takeout and delivery options. Fish said combined more than 1,500 people daily are frequenting the different locations.
“I feel like we’re doing a community service,” Fish said. “We’re providing a little bit of normality to people. What we’re doing is really important to Northeast Ohio. We’re all in this together.”