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Northeast Ohio business owners react to curfew being lifted

Local restaurants will now be able to stay open past 11 p.m. for the first time in nearly three months.

CLEVELAND — It’s the news bars and restaurants have been waiting for: Ohio's curfew has officially been lifted by Gov. Mike DeWine, meaning local establishments can get back to serving drinks and food past 11 p.m. for the first time in nearly three months.

"It’s a chance for Clevelanders to get out and enjoy themselves," Rocco Whalen, chef and owner of Fahrenheit and Rosie and Rocco’s, told 3News. "In Cleveland, you roll your sleeves up, take your lunch to work, work hard, meat and potatoes and kill curfews. That’s what Cleveland loves to do."

It’s the first step in getting back to somewhat normal life for patrons and diners, sure, but especially those in the restaurant business.

"We are definitely looking forward to being able to go back to some type of normalcy," David Torres, kitchen manager at Condado Tacos in Westlake, said. "We know it’s not going to be something that’s going to happen overnight, either."

"We are writing a new normal that’s going to be authored by all of us and it’s going to be great, just like it was before," Whalen added.

Ohio restaurants have not been allowed to serve alcohol past 10 p.m. since July, and a curfew for the same time has been in effect since mid-November. It was pushed back to 11 p.m. two weeks ago, and while that extra hour may not have seemed like much to those outside the food industry, inside it was a big deal.

"Our downtown location, 50% of our business was after 10pm before COVID, so that extra hour has been huge," Russ Mengle, managing partner of Wild Eagle Steak and Saloon, said.

Now that extra hour is turning into many extra hours after the state reported enough straight days below 2,500 hospitalizations to surpass DeWine's requirement. The removal of the curfew gives new, much needed life to struggling owners just in time for a big Valentine’s Day weekend.

"Cleveland will be out, I’m sure, in form this weekend, it’s Valentine's weekend," Whalen said. "I can’t tell you how important that is. Busy, benchmark weekends to start the new year, and we’re ready to serve people."

"A weekend like Valentine's or Saint Patrick’s Day, those sometime make up a whole quarter," Mengle added.

Many Northeast Ohio restaurants have been struggling, with January and February typically being slower due to the cold. When you add in the capacity limits and the curfew, the Ohio Restaurant Association says a survey showed 50% of restaurants are down between 20-70% compared to last year.

The curfew being lifted means a lot to the owners, but also for their employees who’ve had hours cut during the pandemic due to capacity limits and closing early.

"This is about food on the table for my staff and their well being," Whalen said. "I’m definitely tuned into the [COVID-19] numbers, but I’m also tuned into the fact that we couldn’t get to this point without a reduction in numbers."

Restaurants aren't the only businesses celebrating the end of the curfew: JACK Entertainment announced Thursday it will immediately be resuming 24-hour operations at both JACK Casino Cleveland and JACK Thistledown Racino in North Randall.

"We are enthusiastic to once again offer non-stop gaming entertainment and excited that it coincides with the opening of 3,000 square-feet of brand new gaming space at JACK Thistledown Racino, as well as our continued offerings of the newest slots and live table games at JACK Cleveland Casino," JACK CEO Mark Dunkeson said in a statement. "We are all in this together and as always, JACK will remain committed to delivering a safe and comfortable environment for our guests and team members to enjoy."