Eateries await smoking ban: Some restaurant owners face tough decisions

Keywords Environment / Government
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It’s 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and the lunch crowd has dwindled enough to give Giorgio Migliaccio time to relax and light up a cigarette at the downtown pizzeria that bears his name.

But come March 1, Migliaccio and the majority of other restaurant owners in Marion County no longer will allow smoking. A city ordinance will ban the practice in establishments that allow patrons younger than 18.

“I think it will be very hard for the addicted to not smoke after good Italian meal,” Migliaccio said in his thick accent. “But for one hour, maybe they can handle it.”

Giorgio’s Pizza on East Market Street indeed is a haven for those who enjoy a Marlboro with their meatballs. The cramped non-smoking section to the side of the main smoking area is more necessity than courtesy. Migliaccio intended it to be that way when he opened in 1990, so employees didn’t have to wander far when taking smoke breaks. And the nearby kitchen exhaust helps capture carcinogens, Migliaccio said.

While he doesn’t think government should meddle in private-business matters, he conceded that some customers do complain about the smoke. So, in a few weeks, Migliaccio simply will remove the ashtrays from the table and remind customers of the change in policy. Then he will wait and see what type of reaction he receives, and whether business suffers or improves.

For Giorgio’s and other establishments that cannot afford to turn away the family crowd, there is no choice but to adhere to the ban. That has some restaurant managers and owners crying foul that they may lose business to other restaurants that don’t allow children.

Count Chad Ashley, manager of the downtown Rock Bottom brew pub, among the concerned. He is looking forward to working in a smoke-free environment, he said, but also wants a level playing field among all restaurants with liquor licenses.

Broader ban?

At least one City-County councilor agrees. Democrat Ron Gibson favors an amendment that would ban smoking in all establishments, if he can get a majority of fellow councilors to support the measure.

“The unfortunate thing is that [some restaurants] will lose business,” Ashley said, “because the smoking ban has been watered down, if you will. Anytime you put legislation into place that doesn’t include everybody, then some businesses will suffer from it.”

He doesn’t expect his location will feel the effects, especially during lunchtime, because many bar tables where smoking is allowed are left empty. At least the ban will allow him to fill those seats, said Ashley, who is more worried about the eateries near neighboring counties that don’t have smoking bans.

Ed Crofton operates eight Ruby Tuesday restaurants as part of his RT Indianapolis Franchise LLC company. His location on 96th Street borders Hamilton County, which allows smoking.

“On one side of the street I’ll be nonsmoking and Applebee’s on the other side of the street will be smoking,” Crofton said. “If you like to smoke during dinner, you’ll go to Applebee’s.”

Crofton, however, is encouraged by conversations he has had with several guests who were surprised to learn Indianapolis hadn’t already adopted a smoking ban. Further, he thinks it won’t be long before other counties such as Hamilton follow suit. Carmel already prohibits smoking in restaurants.

No children allowed

The locally owned MacNivens on artsy Massachusetts Avenue is one restaurant taking the opposite approach and allowing smoking to continue.

Co-owners Stu Robertson and Troy Gregory opened in May 2004 and allow patrons under 18. That will change, because MacNivens attracts only about 10 youngsters a week, anyway, Gregory said.

“I have a child under 18 and so does [Robertson],” Gregory said. “You hate to not have your children in a place that you own, but it is what it is.”

The establishment has non-smoking and smoking sections, something the Great Divide on New York Street will have soon. Considered more a bar than a restaurant, the Great Divide has never allowed anyone under 21 to enter, and has never had a non-smoking section.

That will change, however, when owners voluntarily convert one of the restaurant’s two rooms to non-smoking, thus breaking a 23-year tradition.

“We do attract a fair amount of smokers, because they know it’s an OK establishment to do such, and because there’s no kids,” co-owner David Brooks said. “But some people say they would rather have non-smoking.”

For some restaurants that already have snubbed smoking, the debate is a nonissue. Take for instance Bazbeaux Pizza, which made the decision to go smoke-free in 2003.

That’s when owners moved the Broad Ripple location across the street on Westfield Boulevard, and decided to eliminate smoking there and at the downtown store on Massachusetts Avenue.

Co-owner Deb Berman said she is pleased with the decision because no business was lost. And without smoke residue on everything, it is much easier to clean the restaurants.

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