LAKEWOOD, Ohio — A new group in Cleveland is working to help bars and restaurants stay open, as they continue to struggle during the pandemic.
It usually would be a full house. But lately, it’s empty inside Sarita a Restaurant in Lakewood.
“We’re just trying to survive until the COVID goes away,” said owner and Executive Chef Anthony Romano.
Romano says he could always count on a steady stream of business, but for the time being, he’s just working to break even.
The saving grace — patio seating.
“Luckily for us, we had the additional space that we can expand the patio outside. And that’s worked for us for summer, but inside, I haven’t seen this restaurant full since March,” said Romano.
Loyal patrons like Mario Aldayuz want to help.
Aldayuz says he’s hosted an informal rotating professional networking happy hour around Cleveland for more than a year.
During the shutdown, coronavirus canceled that, but it also inspired something new: “Reforge Downtown Cleveland.”
“We wanted to start back up again as soon as the bars and restaurants opened and what we realized was that we were the only people there. And that was causing a lot of issues, you know, making menus smaller, making places close early, so we wanted to start this group to support the restaurants that have long supported our community. It’s purely focused on just getting people to go try new places, bringing business on their slow days,” said Aldayuz.
The Facebook group includes a variety of people — all hoping to bring life back into local favorites who are struggling to stay afloat.
“We’re already up to 200 or 300 members. I only know probably 25 of them, so we’ve got a lot of people that are totally new that we’re getting to meet and network with,” said Aldayuz.
Aldayuz says the group connects with restaurant/bar owners and workers to find out what the slowest night of the week is — in order to map out where to go and when.
Aldayuz goes live on Facebook to highlight how the place chosen is COVID-compliant to encourage others to venture out safely.
The group attends anywhere from one to four happy hours all over Cleveland each week.
“I support their efforts because like, you know, we’re all dying a million deaths. And I know how it is in the suburbs here. Now, I haven’t been downtown lately myself, but I can only imagine how downtown itself is doing. You have no sports, no theater, no concerts. You know, what is the draw to go downtown? I’m sure they’re in the same position as us,” said Romano.
“A lot of these restaurants may not be open if we don’t make a concerted effort to support them,” said Aldayuz.
While the group is called “Reforge Downtown,” the goal is to bring business back to locally-owned bars and restaurants all across the Cleveland area.
“Any central area where restaurants and bars are that people are just not frequenting as much anymore. So we go everywhere from the east side all the way over to Avon and Elyria,” said Aldayuz.
Supporting local establishments by dining out may be even more crucial now. The Ohio Liquor Control Commission just passed an emergency rule moving “last call” up to 10 PM.
“You’re gonna kill the economy by these rules. That’s my opinion,” said Romano.
Aldayuz believes Cleveland is a city of endurance and perseverance, which gives him hope for the future.
“I firmly believe that no matter what happens, our city will grow back and will respond in whatever way that we can to make it happen,” said Aldayuz.