Downtown restaurant owners react to closings


Downtown Kent on Tuesday, March 17. Gov. Mike DeWine announced at a press conference Sunday restaurants and bars in Ohio would close in light of the coronavirus.

Empty sidewalks and dark storefronts lined the streets of downtown Kent this week as local businesses dealt with the effects of statewide restrictions on restaurants and bars.  

Gov. Mike DeWine announced at a press conference Sunday restaurants and bars in Ohio would close in light of the coronavirus. Eateries can continue to sell food through carryout, drive-thru and delivery under the ban, but customers can no longer eat inside. For restaurant and bar owners in downtown Kent, the closures have brought challenge and uncertainty to the coming weeks. 

Steve Tannous, owner of Twisted Meltz, said he wasn’t surprised by DeWine’s order, given the measures taken by other countries and states. He said Twisted Meltz has increased its standard cleaning procedures since the coronavirus outbreak, but there was nothing the restaurant could do to prepare for the mandatory shutdown. 

Tannous also said downtown Kent has been quieter than usual since the announcement. 

“It’s been a ghost town,” Tannous said. “I think that people are just at the point where they’re scared to come in.” 

Twisted Meltz will continue to offer carryout and delivery services, Tannous said. He said he shared all the information he had with his employees in regard to filing for unemployment during this time. Gov. DeWine issued an executive order to waive Ohio’s one-week waiting period for filing for unemployment. 

T.J. Ingersoll, owner of Fresco Mexican Grill and Salsa Bar, also said downtown Kent has been noticeably less busy since the closures. 

“Every spring is when the downtown area starts picking up a lot, get[ting] a lot of walking traffic, a lot of people from out of town and/or from the surrounding towns. And that is definitely not the case right now,” Ingersoll said. 

Fresco still has some employees working and is trying to determine the best course of action for the near future, Ingersoll said. 

Ingersoll said Fresco is offering free delivery with a $20 minimum within a three-mile radius, as well as its regular carryout. The restaurant is also doing a pay-it-forward program for medical professionals. Patrons can donate $8 to pay for the meal of a medical worker. 

“So basically, if someone has a medical ID badge, they can get a meal, either burrito or tacos, quesadillas or salad for free,” he said. 

For Stacey Lasher and Carl Bauer, owners of Grazers, the statewide closures came as somewhat of a surprise, but they are glad Ohio is taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. Although Grazers does not typically offer delivery, it will be doing so on a temporary basis. Grazers is also in the process of setting up online ordering. 

“We are grateful that they are allowing carry-out so that we can help our customers maintain their healthy eating habits, and this also allows us to keep our employees earning income,” Lasher and Bauer wrote in an email.   

Throughout the restaurant and bar restriction, Ingersoll said it’s important for people to continue to support their local businesses. 

“I would just hope that we get the word out there for people to support their local restaurants and local businesses through this time,” Ingersoll said. “Because we’re all the ones that at the end of all this are either going to be shut down for good or if everyone can come together as a community, we can all hopefully get out of this together.”

Contact Paige Bennett at [email protected]