The trade association representing Ohio’s restaurant industry will recognize Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted as its Outstanding Public Official in fashioning COVID-19 policy at the onslaught of the pandemic 16 months ago.
Ohio Restaurant Association President and CEO John Barker credited Husted for working with an industry group formed to create an effective response to the crisis with state health advisers and others that maximized the flow of food to the public in the initial weeks and formulating a policy allowing further opening two months later.
Husted “championed the work of this business group, taking considerable time with us,” Barker tells The Ohio Star in an interview. “I talked to the lieutenant governor at least every other day for several weeks.”
The restrictions worked allowed restaurants to still sell food for takeout, at the drive-thru and by delivery. The group also worked on the 6-foot social distancing in public venues such as restaurants and the use of masks at restaurants, stores and other gathering places once dine-in eating was allowed in mid-May.
About half of all food consumed flows through restaurants, the other half through grocery stores, Barker said. If the state had shut down all restaurant sources of food, “you’d have an epic crisis,” he says.
The restrictions formulated “followed the science as we knew it at the time to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Barker says.
He said the cooperative spirit between the industry and state officials prevented Ohio’s restrictions to become as draconian as those imposed on customers and owners of restaurants and bars in California, Michigan, New York and other states.
In Ohio, “we were fighting to get the restaurants open as quickly as possible,” he said. “That was the goal.”
The executive dismissed suggestions the choice of Husted for recognition had any political connection. Governor Mike DeWine’s top lobbyist, Dan McCarthy, once counted the restaurant industry among his firm’s clients.
“That had nothing to do with it,” the OAR executive said, noting the nomination came from the trade association staff which then sent the candidacy to the board of directors for approval.
Barker said the restaurant industry continues to climb out of the shadows of the pandemic while some restaurant owners continue to struggle.
Barker acknowledges chain stores and larger operators had an easier time changing their product delivery mix than smaller operators. Many restaurants and bars closed never to reopen.
Sales overall have rebounded this year.
“It’s improving marginally,” Barker said. “Sales in our industry have improved every month this year.
“That said, it will be a long recovery,” he says, “especially for the independent operators.”
The DeWine administration’s press office said a statement on Husted’s ORA award would be released later in the week in conjunction with ORA’s presentation of the recognition, as well winners of various restaurant industry categories during a July 15 webcast.
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