Butler County restaurants fighting to serve meals, stay open during coronavirus shutdown

Jarett Trudel, general manager of Applebee’s in Hamilton, paints “We Are Open” on the side windows Tuesday, March 31 as a way to let people know they are still serving food. They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with for carryout orders by phone or web ordering. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Jarett Trudel, general manager of Applebee’s in Hamilton, paints “We Are Open” on the side windows Tuesday, March 31 as a way to let people know they are still serving food. They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with for carryout orders by phone or web ordering. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Nearly three weeks of Ohio’s no-sit-down service for restaurants and bars finds Butler County establishments continuing to deal with a steep drop in business, even with customers attempting to show support by ordering carryout.

John Langhorne, owner of The Swire Inn in Middletown, said he committed to keeping the three people on his management staff but gave his 10 support employees the opportunity to go on unemployment, with some employees taking him up on the offer.

Community support for the restaurant has been "unbelievable" and the revenue it has been able to generate has allowed Langhorne to keep the remaining staffers on board. Regular Swire Inn customers keep orders flowing through online ordering for carryout to not only support the business, but also its employees, Langhorne said.

“The tipping has been incredible,” he said. “It’s 20, 50, 100 percent (tips) and it moved one of my managers to tears the first day. She just couldn’t believe it.”

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Langhorne said The Swire Inn has not had to modify or reduce menu options and "people seem to be ordering a little bit of everything."

“The only thing we had to do different, we had to use DoorDash for delivery because I checked with our insurance carrier and covering our employees is not in our plan, so I’m not going to risk anything for that,” he said.

Langhorne said he greatly appreciates the efforts of Downtown Middletown Inc. and the Middletown Visitors Bureau to get information in front of local residents regarding what restaurants are offering carryout and delivery service. He also said it’s “really heartwarming” that local organizations have asked their members to support the restaurant to help payback the support it has provided in the past.

The restaurant recently started offering a free order of bread pudding with every carryout order over $25 while supplies last, Langhorne said.

Basil 1791 chef Donald Sullivan said it was “a shock to the system” when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced March 15 that the state’s restaurants must cease sit-down dining.

“The prospect of managing to keep the doors open for any period of time, it just didn’t seem likely,” Sullivan said.

The dowtown Hamilton restaurant sprang into action, scaling back its menu to a selection of its most popular items and, in reaction to business dropping by half, making other necessary adjustments.

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“We had to let alot of people go and we’re trimming a lot of costs that we incur with having the dining room open, table linens (and) the kind of incidentals that you don’t really think about,” Sullivan said.

Carryout and delivery business has been “pretty steady,” he said.

“Last Friday and Saturday were definitely busier than the week prior,” he said. “We’ve kind of been blown away here at the support and everybody coming in. We’re starting to get the sense we might weather this thing and that feels pretty good.”

Basil 1791 is offering those who purchase $100 in gift cards $20 free, saying it looked forward to “sharing a small bit of comfort” with customers during these uncertain times.

It's one of several area restaurants offering deals. At Tano Bistro in Hamilton, guests can call ahead for a family takeout meal that feeds a family of four for $40. It includes a choice of one protein, two sides and biscuits.

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Due to Ohio’s orders, business at Fairfield Coffee is down by approximtely 60 percent. The usual 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours of operation recently were slashed to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and five employees were temporarily furloughed, according to owner Wrajean Nauman, who now operates the business herself along with a manager.

Customers driving or walking up to the eatery’s drive-thru window continue to purchase the muffins, coffee cake and cinnamon rolls the business makes available, but sandwiches and other items are not selling like they used to, Nauman said.

“We’ve got through a lot of waste, stuff has gone bad,” she said.

Nauman said she’s had customers begging her to remain open.

“We came in Sunday with the intention of closing up and we had several of our customers bringing us gallons of milk because they have limited me to two gallons a day and I used to get 24 at a time, because we were going through 80 gallons a week,” she said. “They’re trying to support us. The first couple of day they were just throwing money at us and that’s gone done, but they’re still supporting us, still buying stuff.

“We truly are blessed with our customers and appreciate each and every one of them. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”

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Due to grocery store shortages and demand from guests, southwest Ohio locations of Texas Roadhouse, including those in Hamilton and West Chester Twp., are selling ready-to-grill fresh-cut steaks — including ribeye, strips, sirloin and filet — directly to the public, according to Travis Doster, vice president of communications for Texas Roadhouse.

The restaurant is open for curbside service and offering Family Value Packs, dinners-for-four that include a choice of an entrée, a large salad, four side dishes, fresh-baked rolls and honey cinnamon butter.

Menu items may be ordered via website, app and phone.

“Restaurants are a vital part of our nation’s food supply and we’re stepping in where we can to help fill the gaps,” Doster said.

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