Indoor dining resumes for Marion County restaurants, but owners see tough road ahead

Some restaurateurs in Marion County on Monday morning cleaned the cutlery, spaced their tables by the required distance and did a quick face-mask check for servers in anticipation of reopening their dining rooms for customers, more than two months after they were declared off limits.

And some did not.

Indianapolis-based Cunningham Restaurant Group planned to resume indoor dining service at seven of its nine Marion County restaurants on Monday. Founder and CEO Mike Cunningham said he was encouraged by better-than-expected sales at the firm’s restaurants outside of Marion County, which were allowed to reopen their dining rooms earlier at limited capacity.

“I think a lot of people were excited to get back in the restaurants,” Cunningham told IBJ on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis-based Patachou Inc., which operates 12 restaurants in Indianapolis and Carmel, is taking a measured approach to reopening—and, for now, that does not include indoor dining.

Founder Martha Hoover said she hasn’t determined when indoor dining will resume.

“We made the determination that it wouldn’t be viable to resume (indoor) seating until we get to 75% capacity,” she said.

On Monday, Marion County entered Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, which among other relaxed restrictions included allowing restaurants to serve patrons indoors, up to 50% of their dining room capacity. Dining staffers are required to wear personal protective equipment, and patrons must be able to keep at least six feet of distance from other tables.

The two Cunningham restaurants in Marion County that won’t open on Monday are Vida in the Lockerbie neighborhood and Nesso at the Alexander hotel downtown. Vida, which is typically closed on Mondays, will resume indoor dining on Tuesday. Nesso will likely reopen by early July.

The company operates more than 30 restaurants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky under numerous brands, including Bru Burger, Stone Creek Dining Co., Livery, Mesh and others. Some of the company’s non-Marion County locations, including in Hamilton, Johnson and Hendricks counties, reopened for indoor dining in mid-May as allowed by those localities.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Cunningham said, his restaurants continued to operate via carryout sales, but revenue dropped to about 30% of normal.

When dine-in service resumed outside of Marion County, Cunningham said, he predicted sales would increase to 50% or 60% of normal. But they were better than expected, rising to 70% or 75% of normal.

Although seven of Cunningham’s nine Marion County restaurants are in the downtown area, Cunningham said the company was fortunate that none of its locations sustained damage during the unrest over the weekend in which crowds broke windows, sprayed graffiti, looted shops and caused other damage to many downtown buildings.

Cunningham described himself as optimistic by nature, but he said big challenges remain from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn. He expects it will take 6-12 months before conditions become more normal.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods by any means,” Cunningham said. “There’s obstacles. I don’t want to paint a picture that we’re not worried about anything.”

Patachou Inc., founded in 1989, operates restaurants under various names: Café Patachou, Public Greens, Napolese and Petite Chou Bistro and Champagne Bar.

Outdoor dining was allowed in Marion County beginning on May 21 at 50% of outdoor capacity, and it will remain available during Phase 3. The Patachou at Clay Terrace in Carmel reopened for patio dining, curbside and takeout service on Wednesday.

Hoover said four more locations are planned to reopen Wednesday, also for outdoor dining, curbside and takeout only: Café Patachou at 5790 E. Main St. in Carmel, Napolese at the Fashion Mall at Keystone and at 114 E. 49th St.; and the Public Greens at 900 E. 64th St. in Broad Ripple.

Another longtime local restaurateur is ready to open the doors for all locations for indoor service on Monday: Huse Culinary, which operates St. Elmo Steak House along with Burger Study and Harry & Izzy’s.

All three restaurants operate in downtown Indianapolis. Harry & Izzy’s also has a north-side location at 4050 E. 82nd St. The company also operates 1933 Lounge in Fishers.

In a message to IBJ, owner Craig Huse said the company’s downtown restaurants sustained “very minor damage” on Friday night.

“However, we provided and managed the security and protection of our properties much more aggressively than the city or state provided for us. Clearly we saw something coming that they did not,” Huse said.

Other restaurants that intended to open on Monday included Shapiro’s Deli at 808 S. Meridian St., although its location at the Fashion Mall at Keystone remains closed.

“Our menu is still limited for the time being,” according to a Facebook post from Shapiro’s. “Many of our ingredients just are not available to us during the pandemic while many other vendors have raised their prices!”

Mimi Blue Meatballs is opening all of its locations for indoor dining on Monday. Also ready to accommodate patrons inside are Sangiovese Ristorante at 27237 E. 86th St. and Binkley’s Kitchen and Bar at 5902 N. College Ave.

Broad Ripple Tavern at 745 Broad Ripple Ave. is holding off until Thursday.

“We have been working these last few weeks cleaning and sanitizing, developing and implementing new policies, securing the necessary PPE and hand sanitizer, and training our staff in order to open as safely as possible,” according to a Facebook post for the tavern. “We have really missed our guests and look forward to seeing you once again!”

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3 thoughts on “Indoor dining resumes for Marion County restaurants, but owners see tough road ahead

  1. gee, I wonder if Patachou’s position on reopening is colored by the lawyers telling her to not reopen and so risk losing their insurance claim.

  2. Huse should be commended for providing its own security and saving its restaurants from more damage. Lesson: never depend on the government to save you. They won’t. They will be there after the crime is done.

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