Columbus bars, restaurants face tough road back following COVID-19 pandemic


COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Last year, some bars and restaurants borrowed tens of thousands of dollars to try and survive the pandemic.

Those who did make it through, like Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, still face a tough road ahead.

Wolf’s Ridge’s outdoor dining area was created to keep customers coming in during the peak of the pandemic, an investment it made when business wasn’t exactly booming.

On top of trying to pay down its debt, Wolf’s Ridge increased wages to stay competitive with a labor shortage while the cost of everything, from meat to gas, has risen as well.

“It’s been good,” said Bob Szuter, co-owner of Wolf’s Ridge. “There’s been a lot of pent-up demand, a lot of energy with customers coming out.”

Things are starting to look more like normal at places like Wolf’s Ridge, a welcome change after the challenges of 2020.

“We’ve put a ton of energy, money, and risk in this,” Szuter said. “To see how close it was almost gone was really hard.”

Helping the business stay open over the last year was the multiple rounds of stimulus funds passed by Congress.

The brewery would have received $1 million from the new restaurant revitalization fund, but since it received PPP money last year, it was only eligible for $400,000 from the more flexible funds.

“Supplier expenses, rent, loan payments, yhere’s a lot of things that fall in the bucket of allowable expenses,” said John Barker, president of the Ohio Restaurant Association. “And it’s a grant, so it’s not something that you need to pay back.”

Barker said some businesses still haven’t found out if they are receiving those funds, while others have already been denied.

“The federal government set aside $28 billion for an industry that lost $290 billion,” Barker said.

As businesses work to get new funding and pay off the old, they’re also faced with new challenges like a labor shortage.

However, owners said they can’t complain — they’re just happy to still be here.

“We’re asking for continued patience and support for local businesses and try to make sure that we’re still here in the future and keep supporting us,” Szuter said.

Barker said the state will announce its own grant program for the hospitality industry as early as this week. That program would also use federal money, allowing bars, restaurants, and hotels to receive up to $30,000 to help offset some of their expenses.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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