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Restaurant Survival Guide: Local spots trudging forward amid the outbreak

J.R. McMillan

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Just getting by is the new normal for the once bustling Columbus culinary scene. Some are still struggling to make it from one day to the next, while others have shuttered their establishments entirely for now, maybe forever. With the future as uncertain as the spread of the coronavirus that prompted such dramatic measures, a few creative solutions and lessons have emerged to help our favorite haunts weather the weeks, perhaps months ahead.

Photo by Chris Casella

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit | rayrayshogpit.com

Locally known and nationally renowned, James Anderson’s beloved barbecue might be the best prescription for troubled times. With an already abbreviated menu of best sellers and rotating specials, brick and mortar counterparts would be wise to consider running their operations more like a food truck. Light, tight, and low frills—just like any legit pit.

Though the Land-Grant location is temporarily closed, Clintonville and Westerville remain open with added procedures to ensure patrons maintain minimal direct interaction, like a chain and new signage to make handoffs less hands-on and transactions less face-to-face. 

“The taproom generates 90 percent of our business at Land-Grant. It was a no-brainer to close from the very beginning,” Anderson noted. “They close on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we’ve always gone with their hours. We moved everyone up to the other two, which are going strong and surviving just fine.”

Suggesting cards over cash, changing gloves between any back and forth exchanges, and ensuring longtime customers know what to expect through social media have become standard practices for most businesses. But Ray Ray’s is still trying to keep the experience original and authentic, even as everyday interactions grow farther apart.

“We’ve started doing call-ahead ordering with no minimum, encouraging people to prepay, so there is less hand-to-hand contact,” he noted. “There’s also a 6-foot chain at the front of the line. You have to kind of reach for your order to get to the window. We’re protecting customers and employees that way.”

Operating limited days and limited hours have always been part of his business strategy, as is a more limited menu with only those items that always sell well making the cut. Staffing is also a factor facing restaurants that remain operational, often with more workers than they need or too few to make do.

“Right now, I have a full staff, so I’m going to have a full menu. I’ve already seen some competitors paring their menus down, which I think is a smart idea,” Anderson revealed. “But we’re giving all of our staff the option to work or not. If they don’t feel comfortable in this crisis, there’s no boss telling anyone they have to come to work.”

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Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Stauf’s Coffee Roasters | staufs.com

The pioneer of coffee culture in Columbus continues to pull espresso shots, steam milk, and bag beans—albeit with some apparent accommodations. To-go and curbside pickup are now standard, with an expanded menu of commodities to hopefully help patrons procure provisions and simple staples without a separate trip to the grocery store.

Blurring the line between supply chains may sound like an obvious approach to address supermarket scarcity. But Mark Swanson, president of Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, knew launching an untested retail strategy amid upheaval in everyone’s daily coffeehouse ritual required rethinking nearly everything.

“We didn’t waste any time and started adjusting procedures more than a month ago. One of the things I love about our team is that they’re creative and flexible,” explained Swanson. “If anyone had an idea to improve what we were doing, we discussed it and implemented it immediately. Then we let our customers know why we were making changes to help keep everyone healthy.”

Offering milk, eggs, and bread for easy pickup, as well as meal kits, soups, salads, and such isn’t an end run around the grocery. It’s a stopgap solution, especially for items that may be tough to find for a while, like diary-free milk alternatives, perishables, and personal hygiene products that may seem incidental until they’re essential.

“We still have sandwiches, pastries, and cookies. We’ll start doing growlers of iced coffee as it gets warmer,” he noted. “What we’re trying to do is become a place where you can grab a couple meals and maybe six essential things without bumping into people at the grocery. It’s all about reducing risk by reducing exposure.”

Less conspicuous changes required delaying an expansion at the Cup O’ Joe in Clintonville and building up the small-scale side of their commercial coffee roasting business by offering free shipping on beans by the pound mailed directly to customers. They’ve even added a clever contraption in stores to fill bags of beans with less direct contact.

“Everyone at Stauf’s has worked in the service industry. We’ve all been baristas, servers, and delivery drivers. We’ve been out there on the frontlines,” Swanson noted. “Our changes come from a place of empathy. We know exactly what would have scared us. It’s why information and transparency are so important for our staff and our customers.”

Courtesy of Facebook

King Gyros | kinggyros.com

Ethnic eateries thrive by offering entrées even accomplished cooks can’t replicate at home. But unlike the strip mall spots many select, this Mediterranean mainstay happens to have a drive-thru window, one that has become a life raft for the business and customers eager to remain connected through the current crisis.

Like many first-generation immigrants, Yianni Chalkias grew up working in his family’s restaurant. But when he started looking for the right place to open his own three decades ago— what we now call a “fast casual” concept—the former Taco Bell left little room for tables.

“My dad had a full-service restaurant. But when I was looking for someplace, I knew I wanted to have a drive-thru,” Chalkias recalled. “We’ve always offered the same quality and service with our drive-thru and takeout as we do with dine-in. Everything is beautiful when you open up the box. It’s the experience customers expect.”

An extensive remodel added an expansive dining room and patio that now sit empty. But building a robust takeout business and an exhaustive menu around shared ingredients helped increase selection and control costs, both smart strategies during tough times.

“People crave what they can’t make at home. Like our kabobs, char-grilled salmon, and calamari—or specials like our lamb shanks and Greek meatballs. But vegetarians love our falafel and pita with hummus or roasted eggplant,” he noted. “Sometimes people don’t believe we make like 20 different desserts in house. But we do. They may only go out once a week, so ordering dessert makes it more of a special occasion.”

Stepping up their social media presence has proven pivotal as well. Facebook posts and Instagram remind longtime patrons about hours and specials. Short videos also share the familiar faces of staff customers are used to seeing behind the counter, whom many admit they miss most of all.

“I started on Instagram as a way to get out of the kitchen, but it’s become a business tool. I do a lot of polls, just to see what people think about how we’re doing,” Chalkias revealed. “These are vulnerable times. So you have to be sure you maintain your connection to your customers. They’re our family too, and you always take care of family.”

Please call ahead or check social media for current menus and hours of operations, as website information may not reflect recent changes.

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Food & Drink

National Brisket Day is Tomorrow!

Julian Foglietti

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Photo by Brian Kaiser

With meat shortages starting to take their toll and National Brisket Day around the corner here's a roundup of some spots you can go to to get your brisket fix.

Legacy Smoke House

With their main location in Hilliard and a food truck moving throughout the city, Legacy Smoke House is a solid choice for brisket on National Brisket Day, just be sure to get there while supplies last. Enjoy!

Pecan Pennys

Just off Main Street, Pecan Pennys is ready to fulfill your brisket needs. If your looking to feed a family though be sure to get your orders in advance as they're requesting 24 hours notice on dinner bundles.

Ray-Ray's Hog Pit

With locations in Franklinton, Westerville, Clintonville and Powell Ray Ray's Hog Pit is open for business with brisket stocked at all locations. #NationalBrisketDay is the best day!

Hoggy’s Restaurant and Catering

Located on Bethel Road, Hoggy’s will be stocking brisket for both dine-in or carryout. Feel free to stop in or stop by!

The Pit

With a new location opened up on Parsons Ave. The Pit BBQ will be offering brisket for the National day. Celebrate with some tasty brisket!

City Barbeque

City Barbeque will be offering brisket for the National day! So get excited and get ready for some yummy BBQ brisket!

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{UPDATED} Indoor Dining: what’s NOT opening?

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Los Gauchos

PINS Mechanical Co.

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Hey Pinheads. We're so excited to hear that our world is beginning to reopen! Many of you have reached out asking about our opening plans so we wanted to provide a brief update on Pins Mechanical Co. While we fully trust and support the decisions of our local leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our team members and guests, while not sacrificing the experience that makes Pins, Pins! With that in mind, none of our locations will be opening in May. There are many unknowns with COVID-19 and we hope that taking this extra time will help our guests and teammates feel better about the measures we’ve put in place to keep all of us safe. For example, on top of our already stringent cleaning procedures, we’re installing UV technology at all locations (ensuring you always have clean balls to play with). We’re looking forward to welcoming back our kick-ass team to train and adjust to this new normal. Once our people feel comfortable + confident, we’ll know it’s time to get rollin’ again! Thank you for your incredible support, online sales, photo shares + kind words over the last two months. Even when you couldn’t show up, you showed up and we’ll never forget it! We’re hopeful that everyone will be safe and smart as we begin to reopen the doors to the small businesses that make our communities so special. See you soon, Pinheads!

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Old North Arcade

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Dear friends, . As you are most likely aware, Governor DeWine has permitted the reopening of bars and restaurants for dine-in seating effective 5/21. We are very grateful that our leadership is now offering businesses the choice to do what they think is right. We offer no judgment for the bars and restaurants that are/have chosen to open. However, for our particular business, and for our staff, we still think it's too early. We are going to remain closed this week and next but do hope to open soon. Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated and we cannot wait to see you all. It is important to us that we apply an extra layer of safety and precaution on top of the govermental recommendations. Tentatively, we are looking at the end of May to reopen in a very limited capacity but we're following local and national developments very closesly so will be quick to bail if things turn south. Your continued support has been quite humbling. Thank you. Stay healthy, support local, and be more than kind to one another. . Cautiously optimistic, . ONA Staff

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Watershed Kitchen + Bar

101 Beer kitchen

They are delaying opening dine-in service until May 26th.

Matt the Miller's Tavern

Stay tuned on social for patio and dine-in updates!

J. Gumbo's

J. Gumbo's will continue to stay open for online ordering for pick up and delivery - stay tuned for dine-in updates.

Mouton on High

The Whitney House

The Whitney House will be opening Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 11 am.

The Guild House

Stay tuned for opening dates!

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Stay safe everyone 💕

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Smoked On High

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

The Woodbury

The Woodbury will be opening its doors for dine-in service on June 1 2020.

Roosters

Roosters are not opening dine-in until May 26th 2020.

The Eagle

The Eagle is temporarily closed - stay tuned on social for updates!

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In light of the government mandated closure of dine-in business for an indeterminable period of time, we’ve made the incredibly hard decision to temporarily close The Eagle Columbus. . Given the truly unprecedented and quickly evolving nature of this health crisis, we’ve been forced to make the best decisions we can, with the information we have. As the true scale of this crisis has been revealed, it’s become impossible to deny the impact this mandate will have on our business and team members. This decision was made as all of our decisions have been: with the health, happiness, well being and best interests of our guests and team members in mind. . The state of Thunderdome Restaurant Group is strong and we look forward to seeing and serving you all on the other side of this. Truth, courage, and be well.

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Lavash Cafe

Tiger + Lily

Tiger + Lily is sticking to carry out for the time being. Follow them on social for updates for dine-in!

Yats Grandview

Red Lobster

Red Lobster is continuing to stick to curbside pickup, delivery, or touchless pick-up.

Harvest Pizza

Bareburger Columbus

Bareburger is opening for dine-in on May 26th, 2020.

Mezze

City Barbeque

Local Cantina - Creekside, Grandview, Dublin, Westerville, Hilliard Locations

Creekside Local Cantina is delaying opening indoor dining until May 26, 2020.

OH Pizza and Brew

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Coronavirus

Don’t be that guy/gal who forces your favorite bar/restaurant to permanently close; here are the rules

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Once the flood of COVID-related documentaries start to infiltrate our Netflix and Hulu feeds, one of the most debated topics will be which smoking gun the auteur chooses. NBA player Rudy Gobert recklessly rubbing his hands over every microphone during a press conference days before testing positive comes to mind first. The spring break bro who wouldn’t let the virus stop him from raging will make its rounds. Even the scene at Standard Hall made some people’s skin crawl.

The Ohio Investigative Unit will be doing its best to monitor situations at restaurants and bars in order to prevent any future anecdotes like the ones listed above. Local law enforcement agencies will be assisting the OIU to make sure that establishments are complying with the Dine Safe Ohio order. With the issues that were brought up following the opening of outside dining on May 15, the OIU has made specific stipulations for patrons to follow:

  • 6-foot social distancing between employees AND members of the public
  • patrons must be seated while eating and/or drinking 
  • no more than 10 people to a table
  • no billiards, video/arcade games, dancing, or card playing
  • patrons must follow specific guidelines put in place by restaurant/bar

For those who have no shame dancing by themselves in public, you’re golden. However, patrons can be written up for not following the OIU’s guidelines. 

Some people may be able to shoulder a citation, but bars and restaurants are the ones who have the most to lose here. In a press conference on May 18, Gov. Mike DeWine mentioned that OIU will issue citations that could result in the permanent loss of liquor licenses.

So once again the ball is in the consumer’s court: follow these very simple rules and avoid the risk of putting your favorite restaurants and bars out of business for good. In 2020, being spring break bro is the worst look.

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