Northeast Ohio restaurants are taking advantage of the summer months to expand outdoor seating since state guidelines linked to the coronavirus pandemic have put limits on indoor space.
Restaurants across the state either closed temporarily or went to take-out service only in March when Gov. Mike DeWine began closing the state in efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Dine-in service opened in May with a long list of state guidelines including 6 feet or a physical barrier between tables, reduced capacity of restaurant space and servers wearing masks. Owners and operators agree that the comeback has been a challenge.
“We went down to 50 percent capacity and we had to do something,” said Mike Frazin, who owns The Original Pancake House in Woodmere with his wife, Jane. They recently added four umbrella tables outside the restaurant to seat more customers safely.
As soon as the weather warmed up, the Frazins sought to add outdoor seating to the west side of their building every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Woodmere’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the temporary outdoor patio and council approved it in June. The restaurant is permitted to have six tables outside through the end of October. Although the restaurant is not geared toward takeout, Mr. Frazin said, about 40 percent of their business is carry out at this time.
“It’s brutal, it’s so hard,” he said. “But we’re providing livings to many people. Our employees are like family.”
At the July 14 village planning commission meeting, Denver Brooker, principal at Vocon architectural firm in Cleveland, presented plans for outdoor seating at Corky and Lenny’s. Mr. Brooker said that the owner of Village Square, John Goodman, is looking to help support the business during the pandemic by providing space for a patio.
According to Mr. Brooker, the outdoor seating would be directly in front of the covered walkway that runs in front of the restaurant and surrounded by planters. That area is currently a main driveway through the parking lot, so the driveway would be temporarily moved into the first couple rows of parking spaces. To relocate the driveway, 12 parking spaces would be lost.
Village Engineer Ed Hren said that the striping on the pavement should have more of a tapered approach to the island that will house the tables. He also said that a traffic engineer recommended reflectors on the outside of the planters to provide more visibility at night and during heavy rains. To ensure safety, Building Commissioner Rick Loconti strongly recommended bollards, posts that are drilled into the parking lot with cement and solid steel.
Amanda Kurland, co-owner of Corky and Lenny’s, said the restaurant already has four tables outside under the covered walkway and the dining room is at about one-third capacity. The deli also has curbside pickup options and delivery services.
“We’ve always discussed [outdoor seating], but we were told there’s not enough parking to make that a possibility,” she said. “We don’t have as much indoor seating now so we’re just displacing people.”
On July 7, the Orange Village Planning and Zoning Commission approved outdoor dining and entertainment for the Village Diner at the corner of Miles and Brainard roads. Chief Building Official Bob McLaughlin explained that the eatery needed approval for this particular type of use. On Friday nights, a band performs in the parking lot and people can eat in their cars or at the outdoor tables.
“This seems to be very creative and clever and provides them an opportunity to make some money and offer some entertainment to the community,” Councilman Jud Kline said.
Chagrin Falls Councilman Andrew Rockey said that council permitted restaurants to extend their outdoor seating to an attached parking lot throughout the summer season. Jim Balchak took advantage of this opportunity for his restaurant, Aurelia, by adding outdoor seating behind the restaurant.
Mr. Rockey said that some areas in Ohio have a community entertainment district that allows “open container” activity, which could boost business for bars and restaurants in Chagrin Falls. Right now he has no definite location in mind for the district, but downtown Chagrin Falls is home to many village restaurants. The district would only be in effect certain times of the day.
“I wanted to bring it up to council to look into whether Chagrin is able to do this. It’s not going to be a fast or easy thing. It’s not going to happen overnight. Our population will be an issue,” Mr. Rockey said. “There’s a certain financial input you have to have. Chagrin Falls has 3,300 people. It’s a good time to be looking into it, it is an advantage to our businesses.”
Input is needed from businesses, council and the police chief, he said. Applying for a community entertainment district would be handled through the Ohio Liquor Control Commission.