It’s 36 degrees out currently and I’m having lunch on the patio (Tarte Flambe Pizza) at Wheat Penny. And with just 4 of the 6 heaters turned on, it’s toasty warm on the partially enclosed patio. I came down to talk with Chef/Owner Liz Valenti about her decision to close the dining room, but still serve meals on the patio and do carry out.
As Liz talks, it’s easy to tell that she’s done a lot of research and is passionate about making the best decision for her guests and staff. She consulted with an engineer about how to achieve maximum air flow on the patio and invested about $20,000 installing a Haiku UV-C Ceiling Fan and heaters. The fan evenly circulates air through their system, which includes UV-C light rays that destroy and neutralize 99.99% of airborne pathogens. It removes mold, bacteria, and viruses – including the COVID-19 virus.
Wheat Penny will be adding additional wall mounted heating in the next couple of weeks. Liz feels confident that her patio is safe and will be a viable option throughout the winter. Their tables are still socially distanced and of course staff are masked up. “Because of the fresh air circulation, our patio is actually safer than than our dining room at this point. We hope as things move forward to install a Haiku in the dining room.”
Back in March when the shutdown happened Wheat Penny and it’s sister restaurant Meadowlark had to lay off staff. They helped them file for unemployment and figure out what to do about their insurance and feed them weekly and stayed actively involved with lives of those we’ve laid off.
Today Liz choked up as she shared she had to lay off a couple more. But they have plans to drop Door Dash and Uber Eats to launch their own in house delivery, which could bring back 3 employees. Initially delivery will be in a 3 mile range of each restaurant and then expanding as they master it.
Chef Liz shared that “the carryout menu will be expanding, we’ll be developing more family pack meals, utilizing our smoker more, smoking brisket. Our pizza’s, plated dinners and pasta’s have been our best sellers and I’m amazed at how many people are ordering our egg plant fries for take out. I’m actually driving up to Chicago Sunday to pick up rice flour to make more, as our local purveyors have been unable to source it. To-go cocktails have also been a meaningful addition to carry outs, saying it’s not unusual for an order to be a pizza and 3 cocktails, which helps us keep bartenders on staff. We’ve also been doing some large take outs for companies that are gifting individually packaged meals with their employees and then eating together via zoom.
As we continue to chat, she shares that Covid has been the ultimate team building experience and truly improved the communication of the staff at both locations, because they’ve needed to be frank about what’s happening and they are speaking without filters. She’s also really encouraged by the conversations being had with local and state lawmakers, and the guidance and advocacy being done on behalf of restaurants by the Ohio Restaurant Association. As a matter of she has to end our conversation to take a call from Senator Sherrod Brown.
She left me with a final statement saying “our restaurants are making decisions based on health experts and aggressively adhering to the rules, while trying to keep as many people employed and feed. We hope our community will continue to support us and all the local eateries.”