Businesses across the country are doing their best to hang on during increasingly difficult circumstances as a result of the pandemic and restrictions imposed by state and local governments to combat COVID-19. But despite best efforts, the sad reality is some businesses haven’t survived and plenty more will fall by the wayside soon enough.
The sense of community loss was felt in Delaware this week when popular downtown restaurant 12 West announced this week will be its final in business before operations are suspended due to the pandemic and the state government’s restrictions. In a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, the business thanked the community for its support over the past six years while stating that restaurants following the proper guidelines have done their part to keep diners safe during the pandemic.
But while 12 West will be ceasing operations for the time being, owner David DiStefano told The Gazette the suspension of operations does not mean he is ready to throw in the towel on the business as a whole just yet.
“We’re just closing because of the pandemic and the restrictions put on us in terms of distancing,” DiStefano said. “And also the uncertain marketplace. But it is our goal that we will reopen and get through this … There is some confusion out there, but this is not a permanent closure.
“Now, can I predict the future? No. Who would have thought we’d be here right now? But this isn’t like a, ‘Hey, we’re closing the doors and we’re never going to reopen them’ thought process.”
The 6-foot social distancing restrictions have been particularly devastating for 12 West, DiStefano said. Without bar seating in the restaurant, he has had to rely solely upon regular tables in a space that isn’t very big to begin with. To add more socially-distanced dining spaces, DiStefano has been using the dining space in the SmOHked building next door, which he also owns.
DiStefano closed SmOHked shortly before the pandemic in order to “refresh” the business, but the pandemic put those plans on hold as the dining space was badly needed for 12 West. He said the barbecue concept at SmOHked was successful, and he anticipates reopening the restaurant when 12 West is able to return to its normal operations.
DiStefano said 12 West is also moving into its slower sales months as the seasons change, which also factored into the decision to suspend operations. The warmer months, which allowed the patio seating at the restaurant to flourish, were crucial for the sustainment of 12 West, he said.
One thing working in DiStefano’s favor regarding a potential reopening is that he owns the buildings, meaning he doesn’t have to worry about a lease payment. Rent or lease payments while suffering from a drastic loss in sales is, perhaps, the number one reason why businesses are unable to persevere, he said.
“I have a little leeway there because I own the buildings, so I can manage my way through that,” DiStefano said. “So, we’re going to hang on as long as we can. My guess is spring (to reopen). It’s not a hard timeline, but I think, hopefully, that’s when vaccines will be out there and people will be able to get tested rapidly, as we’re starting to do already, and we’ll see success there…”
In the meantime, DiStefano hopes people won’t misconstrue government restrictions that include restaurant closures as an indictment on the restaurants and how they’ve responded to the pandemic.
“The restaurant industry as a whole has done a really good job,” DiStefano said. “If you look at the facts through the CDC or the (Ohio) Department of Health, the contact tracing indicates that restaurants have been a safe place to dine, and I feel like that message gets lost when government officials start talking about shutting down restaurants. People think that’s a bad reflection of restaurants, that they’re not doing a good job. We’ve done a very good job of being safe for the guests.”
DiStefano also thanked the community for its outpouring of support following the announcement of 12 West suspending operations.
“The community’s support has been overwhelming,” he said. “We did three times the sales we normally do (Wednesday) night. We’ve had people come in and bring us gifts, well wishes, and thanks. I think we had 34,000 people reached through our Facebook post, over 13,000 engagements, and over 500 likes.”
DiStefano added, “We plan to be back.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.