Butler County bars prepare for back-to-back St. Patrick’s Day, NCAA tournament: What they’re saying

Bob MacKendrick, co-owner and general manager of Berd's Grill & Bar in Fairfield, is excited about customers watching NCAA Tournament games this year after the tourney was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
Bob MacKendrick, co-owner and general manager of Berd's Grill & Bar in Fairfield, is excited about customers watching NCAA Tournament games this year after the tourney was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

After a disastrous March last year, local bars and restaurants are hoping to score some green this year, starting with St. Patrick’s Day.

Traditionally, March — fueled by St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of the month and the month-long NCAA men’s basketball tournament — is the busiest time of the year in the food and beverage business. Everyone wants to be Irish for a day and college basketball fans love watching their favorite teams during the tournament.

But in March 2020, the green beer was stale and there was no madness.

“It was a horrific time,” said Jim Manley, marketing manager for Fricker’s that has three area locations.

“Sad situation for us,” said Jan Collins, owner of Cozy’s Cafe and Pub in Liberty Twp. and the two Putter’s Sports Grill locations.

Rick Drescher, owner of Shooters Sports Grill with four locations, was even more succinct: “Awful.”

Gov. Mike DeWine eliminated dine-in service at restaurants and bars on March 15 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, then allowed them to have dine-in service with a 10 p.m. curfew.

Now their hours are back to normal, but customers must wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking, and since tables are spaced out at least six feet apart, the maximum occupancy is about 50 percent at some places.

Sales that were lost last year can’t be recouped, said Homa Moheimani, spokeswoman for the Ohio Restaurant Association.

“When you have a celebration, that happens at a certain time at a certain place,” she said. “When those events aren’t held, it’s a lost opportunity.”

Right before DeWine’s announcement and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament in March 2020, Manley had ordered thousands of pounds of chicken wings for all the locations. Instead of being served on plates, those fresh wings ended up in the garbage.

“We’re hoping to sell wings this year,” Manley said with a laugh.

He said March typically “makes or breaks” the year financially and while sales are down at Fricker’s for the first two months of the year, Manley hopes business increases enough in March to get sales back on target.

Collins said March is the “best month of the year.” When asked what percentage March accounts for, Collins said: “I don’t want to jinx myself.”

Drescher is hoping for a strong March, but since Cincinnati, Xavier and Kentucky missed the tournament field that may hurt fans’ enthusiasm. He said the NCAA Tournament is the biggest sporting event of the year because it lasts for weeks.

Twin Peaks opened in November 2019 in West Chester so General Manager Chris Wickline said he’s looking forward to the first March when the bar celebrates St. Patrick’s Day and shows NCAA basketball games.

He said the bar/restaurant has “tons of dividers” to help customers remain six feet apart and a 30-by-30 tent near the patio gives customers a place to eat or wait for a table inside.

Bob MacKendrick, co-owner and general manager of Berd’s Grill and Bar in Fairfield, said the business will benefit from St. Paddy’s Day, college basketball and the customers’ desire to “get back to normal.”

He point toward his mask and said: “By normal I mean not this.”

Berd's Grill & Bar in Fairfield has installed Plexiglass dividers and reduced seating to follow health guidelines. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
Berd's Grill & Bar in Fairfield has installed Plexiglass dividers and reduced seating to follow health guidelines. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

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