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Ohio Valley gets a taste of indoor dining

BACK OPEN — The Ville Restaurant and Bar welcomed the return of indoor dining to Ohio restaurants, saying, “It’s a blessing to be open.” (Photo by Linda Harris)

STEUBENVILLE — Blue skies and warm temperatures had area residents out in droves Saturday, a welcome sight for restaurant owners on both sides of the Ohio River.

The Ville Restaurant & Bar’s Tom Kotur said it “definitely feels good” to be back.

“Now we have staff that are able to get back to work and customers are able to come back in,” Kotur said. “It’s definitely a blessing to be open, not just from the business part of it but the social part, too. People have been isolated and hadn’t had a chance to interact with other people for weeks.”

Ohio restaurants resumed indoor dining Thursday, though Kotur said The Ville took an extra day to get ready “because we had some repairs we were doing and I wanted to make sure we had plenty of inventory on hand, I wanted that extra day.”

The reopening “went well, although there are people who are still reluctant to go out at this point,” Kotur said. “But we followed all the necessary protocols mandated by the state, pretty much what everyone is doing as far as distancing and protecting our employees and customers.”

“People want to be out and be social, they want to interact.,” he added. “It’s nice to see people try to break the ice…open the door a little bit to get back to that happy point where they can go out and laugh and interact a little bit. It’s a blessing for us, not only as a business that has employees and supports other local businesses for products, but it’s just as important for customers to be able to go out and be more comfortable about (it).”

Over in West Virginia, Theo Yianni’s co-owner Yianni Bourbakis said it’s “nice to see people again, that’s for sure.”

“I think people are excited to be out and about, they’re literally starving to get out,” Bourbakis said. “It’s been pretty good, I think people are excited to be out — I don’t want say they’re not concerned with what’s been going on, but they’re ready to get out, it sure seems like.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice had given restaurants the green light to resume outdoor dining on May 4, but it wasn’t until Thursday that they were allowed to serve people indoors again with restrictions — including limiting occupancy to 50 percent of capacity, with a six-foot social distancing buffer required between tables.

“We closed some tables and our bar is closed now, we’re trying to maintain social distancing,” Bourbakis said. “Our employees have to wear masks — it definitely takes a while to get used to it. (But) the past few days we’ve had 50 percent occupancy. … It’s been pretty steady, and carryouts are still strong.”

He said one of the hardest things in a COVID-19 world has been figuring out how to greet his long-time customers, pointing out Greeks, by nature, are huggers.

“We’re such a family style restaurant, most of our customers are regulars, we know them,” he said. “When you have a place that seats 200 people and people come every day, then (suddenly) it’s dark. … You can only get so much food out the carry-out window, so it’s nice to be back. We didn’t think it would be this long, but business-wise, we stayed afloat and we’re working hard.”

Bourbakis said he and co-owner Shawn Mihellis are optimistic the worst is behind them.

“I think there will be a new normal,” he said. “To get back to normal would be great but I think people are going to be cautious about things. The only way to get to 100 percent normal is if there’s some type of vaccine or a way to prevent getting (COVID-19), but right now, I feel like people are concerned but at the same time they’re ready to get back to life.”

Kotur said reopening restaurants “gives people a place to come and interact with each other.”

“You can’t put a price on that,” he said. “I think it’s good for business, good for the community (to be open again). But a lot of people still have a wait-and-see attitude. If the numbers don’t go up, I think you’ll see more people come out and there’ll be a snowball effect. It will be better for business and the community.”

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