By Abigail Cloutier
Just a month ago, several new restaurants and bars were slated to open soon in Youngstown.
Gringo’s Tacos, Tequila Coyote, Prima Cucina Italiana and Rev’s Ribs were all in various stages of preparation to open during the summer months.
Now, Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide restrictions with food operations due to the coronavirus pandemic put those opening dates in jeopardy as even existing restaurants are forced to lay off workers and serve takeout only.
Jorge Carreño, part owner of Gringo’s Tacos, originally aimed to open the establishment April 16 on North Phelps Street.
“All of our construction has slowed down, so our opening day is going to have to be put back until further notice,” he said. “We’re taking it day by day. Even if we make a decision and put a date on it, it doesn’t depend on us anymore. It depends on what the government tells us.”
Carreño is also co-owner of Margherita’s Grille in Girard. The restaurant closed after hearing only essential businesses should remain open.
Ultimately, the restaurant reopened with limited hours for takeout orders only, Carreño said
“Many of our employees were concerned to be in contact with the public, especially after hearing all of the news,” he said.
Carreño said much of the staff has been laid off, and Margherita’s Grille is operating with only a handful of staff members to reduce person-to-person contact.
“This is affecting us all the same way. Even the people that have a job are concerned about how long they’re going to be able to perform that job,” he said.
Ed Moses, co-owner of V2 Wine Bar and Trattoria by Vernon in downtown Youngstown, said the establishment would be closed as of the last week of March.
“There’s an impact on our employees; it’s not good,” he said. “It’s an impact on the city and downtown Youngstown overall. It’s dead downtown.”
Moses said there was difficulty in the logistics of doing takeout orders only.
“I’m not sure what everyone else is doing, but we’re closed because there’s no parking downtown,” he said. “They can’t pull up and come in and pick up and go. We’re very limited downtown, and it’s very hard to do that.”
Moses said he is looking forward to reopening and getting back to normal but said for now it’s a “waiting game, and very frustrating.”
Even before the spread of COVID-19, community members noted specific difficulties that came with the creation of new restaurants in the Youngstown area.
Carmella Williams, director of supplier diversity and inclusion at the Youngstown Business Incubator, said issues such as profit margins can make it hard for restaurants operating even in better economic times.
“For instance, in the food business, the profit margin is so low. So the question is how long will it take you to even break even?” she said. “And they don’t really predict that well, so you’ll see people going out of business in two to three, four years. If you make over the five-year mark, you’re really doing something.”