Smoke and Fire

An impotent smoking ban puts the heat on restaurant owners.

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Ohio smoking ban
No matter what you think of the smoking ban, you've got to feel bad for Michael Ollick. A coffee kiosk operator and former sales guy, he's been in the restaurant biz only since November, when he opened Westlake's Loco Leprechaun with his girlfriend and business partner, Rose Wolfgram (see review). But already it's clear the guy has been hung out to dry.

"On the night the smoking ban went into effect, we posted the signs and put away the ashtrays," Ollick says glumly. "Then one of our regulars, a smoker, calls and says he heard there's no way to enforce it. So what am I going to do? Kick him out? I'm new, I need customers . . . and how am I supposed to stop them anyway?"

It's a conundrum, all right, and one that plenty of local restaurateurs have had to face since December 7, when Ohio's toothless smoking ban kicked in. Sure, sometimes Ollick may ask a smoker to take it out onto the sidewalk. If a nonsmoker is raising a stink, he'll even ask the offender to stub it out. But mostly he looks the other way, trying to keep the peace and keep warm bottoms on his barstools.

Which explains the scene that greeted us on a recent Saturday night, when we dropped by the restaurant and bar for dinner: The no-smoking sign was mounted plainly on the window, and right behind it, a middle-aged scofflaw was puffing away like a chimney. He wasn't alone either. A few seats farther down the bar, a couple of twentysomethings were tossing back brewskies and sucking down cigs. And a quick peek inside the candleholder on our own tabletop -- far removed from the bar area and smack in the middle of the dining room -- revealed that previous visitors had used it as an ashtray.

So if smokers won't obey the law, health department officials can't enforce the law, and owners are scared to turn nicotine-enriched customers away, what's a smoke-phobic diner to do? Don't look to Ollick for answers. "At this point, I just wish we had waited to open until the enforcement was in effect," he says. Not that anyone's sure when that will be. "For us, this has been a no-win situation."

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