Some Dayton-area restaurants won’t reopen to outdoor dining out of an abundance of caution

Local News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Thousands of Ohio restaurants are preparing to welcome outdoor diners this Friday, but some Dayton restaurants don’t think it’s safe to reopen yet. 

The co-owner of Wheat Penny says it was an easy decision to put the health and safety of her staff and customers above the potential profits. And chef Elisabeth Valenti doesn’t want her staff to have to make tough decisions if a customer is not wearing a mask. 

She says, “Initially I was very exuberant about opening, but it really quickly became clear that we’re not quite there yet.” 

Chef Valenti knows Wheat Penny is passing up revenue, but says her staff believes the coronavirus numbers aren’t where they need to be to safely reopen. Wheat Penny has stayed open for carryout meals, and is cleaning the restaurant thoroughly, taking employee temperatures, and requiring masks and gloves. 

But Chef Valenti says, “All that could be for naught if we chose to make the wrong decision in opening the patio or the dining room.” 

In a statement posted on Facebook, Wheat Penny wrote: “This was a very difficult decision for us, but we feel an overwhelming responsibility to both our staff and to you, our customers, to make sure we have all necessary and tedious details in place before moving forward. Our plan at this point is to continue offering our touchless online ordering and payment, with curbside pickup or delivery from one of our delivery partners, through at least Saturday May 23. By that time we hope to be ready to let you know our dine-in opening date.”

And Wheat Penny isn’t alone. Several other Dayton staples like Lily’s, El MesonThai 9Eudora, and The Barrel House are choosing not to open to patio diners. 

Lily’s posted: “Despite the ability to open outdoor dining Friday, May 15, our patios will remain closed and lonely for the time being. It *is* possible we will open for limited outdoor dining only in the weeks to come, but first we want to put some systems into place and also give the world a little more time to see how things are looking. We do not plan to open our interiors any earlier than June 1, if then.”

Chef Valenti says her staff is fully supportive of the decision to wait. “They understand that we need to make decisions that are smart, that this is not just about the next six weeks, this is about the next 18 months.” 

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says a lack of adequate testing means diners may be infected and not know it. “Because of this, the city will not be issuing new or additional outdoor seating permits to coincide with the reopening of restaurants.” And while she’ll continue to support restaurants that offer carry-out and delivery, for now she won’t eat at the restaurants that do reopen. “I cannot encourage any kind of gathering, frankly, in good conscience, when I know where we are with testing in this community.” 

Chef Valenti doesn’t have a reopen date in mind yet. Her staff is communicating openly about concerns and ideas, and she knows Wheat Penny will one day welcome diners back. “Six months from now our business will be drastically different than it was in 2019, 2018. It’s not the same model. Our food will be the same, our commitment and integrity will be the same, but our systems will be different.” 

Chef Valenti says her staff is looking at this atypical time as an opportunity for growth. She says the key to surviving this is communication and planning for the future. Her team is also looking at how new technology can help them back away from the usual hands-on approach. 

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