At 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, all Ohio bars and restaurants were ordered to close until further notice – apart from take-out and delivery business.
Obviously, this action will have devastating effects on the hospitality industry and all of the people who work in area bars and restaurants. But the ripple effects are equally destructive, with supporting businesses like produce, seafood, beer, wine and booze distributors losing considerable business.
“We do a fair amount of retail business, but the majority of our business is with the restaurants that have closed,” explains Matt Swingo, director of sales for Catanese Classic Seafood. “As far as product, we’ve had a lot of stuff booked that is showing up here on trucks throughout the weekend. We are pretty much fully stocked.”
There are few products as perishable as fresh fish, and Catanese is doing everything it can to move its inventory, namely imploring local retailers like Heinen’s and others to carry and push the fish by running specials. Customers can also purchase directly at the Flats location and inside the West Side Market.
“Many products that we have an overabundance of we will freeze and use at a later date,” adds Swingo.
As a prime supplier of fresh foods to fine-dining restaurants, Cleveland-based Premier ProduceOne also has warehouses brimming with spring produce that was destined for restaurants all across the region.
“I’m sitting on millions of dollars of product here – 800 cases of strawberries, 2,000 cases of oranges 4,000 cases of apples…,” says partner Tony Anselmo.
As with Catanese, Anselmo is beseeching local retailers like Giant Eagle and Heinen’s to step up and purchase from local distributors like him.
“This is the time that we need our retail companies to support us,” he says.
Jeff Draeger, state sales director for Sixth City Distribution, estimates that approximately 40-percent of his company’s beer sales go to bars and restaurants, with the balance going to retail outlets.
“It’s definitely going to have a major impact but thankfully there’s the retail side of things for us that is active and busier than ever because the independent retailers and chain groceries are the only source for people to buy alcohol,” he reports.
Larger breweries that can and bottle and distribute to retail stores will fare much better, he adds, than the small niche brewers that operate all over Northeast Ohio.
“The people who are really in trouble are the small local breweries where their entire business model is based on draft beer sales in their bar or to other bars and restaurants,” he says.
While those breweries can sell crowlers and growlers of beer to go, the demand is likely diminishing with each additional public admonishment.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.