For some restaurant owners in Sharonville, the decision to stay open has been heavy.
“I didn’t know,” Victoria Reddy said. She owns Alreddy Café in downtown Sharonville. But, she remained open and has been pleasantly surprised by the loyalty of her customers.
“I even had a customer come, though it was the first day with tears," she said. "Tips have been big."
Alreddy Café is one of 20 independently owned restaurants that are featured on Sharonville's third annual food train. The idea is to get people to patronize Sharonville's local eateries. Initially the program was started to help generate customers for the local businesses. It is now a way to hopefully help keep those businesses from shutting their doors.
“They want to still be here when this is over, and we want to do everything we can to make that possible,” said Katy Kanelopoulos, the small business liaison for the city of Sharonville.
She said she has gotten a number of calls from small business owners, both restaurants and others, asking how they can access small business loans and other support to help them weather the ripple effects of COVID-19.
“They may or may not have been prepared for this," she said. "And so, when you’re told to shut down, yeah, it’s a difficult situation."
There are a number of incentives in place to try to get people to place carry-out orders. Ten stamps on a ticket earn you a T-shirt.
But, Kanelopoulos said, the food train almost didn't leave the station.
“We thought, you know, what should we do?" she said. "Do we need to postpone it? And the more we thought about it, we thought no, this is the perfect time."
Meanwhile, the timing of COVID-19 hasn't been good for any business, especially those just starting like Wing Champ on East Sharon Road. The eatery opened only six weeks ago.
“We’re rolling with the punches and, you know, seeing what we can do to keep business alive,” said the restaurant's general manager, Max McAnallen.
He said they opened with a bar, karaoke and homecooked, Southern-style food. Now, they only offer food for carryout and delivery. But, they offer a full menu.
“We are a lot more than just wings. We do pretty much anything,” said Liz Rogers, the owner of Wing Champ. “We’re putting a lot of great specials in place for our customers that are out of work right now, that may not be able to afford what they normally would be able to afford.”
Rogers said she wants people to know she understands and she's with them.
The Athenian is also on the Sharonville Food Train. The Greek restaurant, which started in 1976, has seen some busy lunchtime carryout business.
“Our carry-outs doubled, obviously," said Bill Kanelopoulos, co-owner of the Athenian Restaurant. "But, we’re trying to just do it one order at a time.”
By the way, he and Katy Kanelopolous are newlyweds.
The restaurant is trying to understand the new standards and help customers understand them too.
“Should I come in? Should I come out? Should I call my order in?" he said.
A sign outside the door advises customers to call in their orders, to allow for social distancing. And, they space out orders to minimize the number of people inside the restaurant.
Kanelopoulos said his father started the restaurant and keeping it going was hard.
“They’ve had some times where it was tough, you know, where they weren’t making enough money," he said. "But nothing like this.”