Cleveland offering winter operations grants to restaurants to help during pandemic

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — Dining outside during the winter in Cleveland would have been considered a crazy idea a year ago, but the pandemic is now forcing some restaurant owners to embrace outdoor dining in cold weather.

Johnny’s Downtown is the quintessential old school Cleveland restaurant, but employees spent the morning turning the restaurant’s patio into a new age dining area, complete with two large tents, side covers and space heaters.

Longtime owner Joe Santosuosso says he had never seriously considered outdoor dining in the dead of winter, until now. That’s because the enclosed patio will allow for additional seating that keeps customers at a safe distance from each other.

“Once years ago, we did enclose the outside for a party, but that was just more of a joke than anything, we didn’t think that we’d actually have to do it to stay open,” said Santosuosso.

Business at Johnny’s Downtown is down more than 50% since the virus hit, and Santosuosso says some of his customers are still not comfortable with dining inside. In an effort to help restaurants cover the cost of everything from tents to fire pots, the city of Cleveland is now offering grants of up to $5,000 for each business to set up outdoor dining for the winter.

“They see the need and they’re addressing it, good for them, it’s incredible on their part that they have the foresight,” said Santosuosso.

Customers who now prefer dining outside, view the city’s $500,000 grant program as a good way to encourage creative outdoor dining ideas.

Downtown diner Lacy Leduc told Fox 8, “I think that it would help restaurants throughout the winter, when we will inevitably, probably see an increase in cases, so that people can still feel comfortable going to restaurants and be able to be outside.”

The Kimpton Schofield Hotel on East 9th was one of the first Cleveland businesses to embrace non-traditional outdoor dining by creating a small village of greenhouses for socially distant dining outside Betts Restaurant in the Schofield Building.

“People just walking around downtown love it, it’s a great, safe, secure, clean place to dine out and still be in the middle of Cleveland,” said Nicole Bakker, Brand Manager for the Schofield Building.

The “Restaurant Winter Operations Support Grants” are being offered through the city’s Department of Economic Development.

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