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Lakewood Restaurant Owner Fears the Fallout of a Potential Second Shutdown

Jill Vedaa
Jill Vedaa co-owns Salt restaurant in Lakewood that had to close briefly recently due to potential coronavirus exposure.

Jill Vedaa and Jessica Parkison have co-owned small plates restaurant Salt in Lakewood for four years. Vedaa is a two-time James Beard Award finalist, and combined they have about 50 years of experience in the industry.

After weathering Ohio’s shutdown order in March by offering family-style takeout, they delayed re-opening until June 1 as an extra precaution. Last week came a Facebook post announcing the business was temporarily closing after several employees were exposed to COVID-19.

Closing as a precaution
“We decided it was in our best interest to get these people tested,” Vedaa said. “We said, ‘We need to do this; we need to be transparent.’ And [the tests] came back negative.”

Vedaa said it was important to be upfront with the community about the situation, even if it meant a lot of negative publicity.

"This could literally take down our business 100%, and no amount of loans or anything would be able to help that."

“When something like this happens, you fall under so much scrutiny, even though you’re doing the right thing. There’s a lot of restaurants and restaurant owners that are not doing that; they’re not doing the bare minimum of what needs to be done,” she said.

Salt re-opened Monday, but Vedaa said the worry for her employees and her business looms large.

“As much as I understand this virus, and I understand its effects on people, it doesn’t really hit as hard as when it’s directly in front of you," she said. "We have a small crew, and without half those people, we wouldn’t be able to operate.”  

Staying afloat
And she said the uncertainty creates a lot of fear.

“It’s a scary thing to think that this could literally take down our business 100%, and no amount of loans or anything would be able to help that. That’s the thing that people don’t understand is that all we’re trying to do is stay afloat at this point. You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

"If you're not making money, you can't do anything. You're in quicksand at that point."

Cuyahoga County is under a mandatory mask order after rising to level red on the state’s coronavirus risk alert map. As cases rise, there’s concern that the county will be elevated to the highest level, purple. Vedaa is almost certain that would prompt another state-mandated shutdown.

“Could we close? Could we reopen? Possibly. But we still have to pay rent. We still have to pay utilities. We still have all the stuff that’s looming over our head," she said. "So if we were to shut down again, that means zero dollars coming in and that means a lot of businesses won’t make it. We could definitely be one of those businesses that doesn’t make it if that happens.”

Salt is one of the small businesses in Ohio that received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. Vedaa wonders what another shutdown would mean in terms of paying that back.  

Fearing the future
Vedaa said the coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on the industry.

“The amount of experience that we’ve had has kept us to this point open, but it’s definitely an equalizer for small businesses regardless of how long you’ve been in the business, how much experience you have, how much money you’ve saved up, whatever loans you’ve paid off or received. If you’re not making money, you can’t do anything. You’re in quicksand at that point.”

Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. After serving as WKSU's Morning Edition host for a dozen years, she moved to afternoons in March of 2022 to become the local host of All Things Considered. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio's sports scene called The View From Pluto. She also hosts and produces Shuffle, a podcast focusing on Northeast Ohio’s music scene.