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McGarity

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all restaurants and bars to stop sit-down service in March, restaurants had to close temporarily or permanently, or try to survive on carry-out and delivery. The latter is what happened at Smoked on High, a barbecue restaurant and catering company in downtown Columbus.

Owner Max McGarity said the restaurant didn’t see a total disruption of service switching to take-out only, mostly because of how the restaurant was already structured.

“I understand why (the restaurants closed) when they did. Though it doesn’t make great business for restaurants and the service industry, things need to be done,” McGarity said. “At this point, it’s a matter of staying afloat. For us, we’re a quick-service restaurant and we’re kind of built for this. We already did a lot of take-out so we never shut down. We transitioned pretty quickly when DeWine made the order. We changed how we were operating that next day and just went with it. Though I didn’t like it, I understood.”

But that doesn’t mean things were smooth sailing, either, he added, explaining the cost of using delivery platforms as a large part of such a business.

“Our business originally generated 60 to 70% of our sales from dine-in customers,” said McGarity, 30, of Columbus. “Now, our delivery platforms are about 45 to 50% of our business, and the rest is people calling in. It has been a huge hit for us not being able to allow dine-in customers the past weeks. Though delivery platforms take off 30% of the sale for their fees, it’s a necessary evil. So, we’re grateful, but the sales are definitely skewed. That’s why we just created our own online ordering platform and we see 100% of those profits.”

While the restaurant operated as take-out only, McGarity, who became bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington, said staffing took a hit.

“We were operating at half staff and patrons couldn’t come in more than 10 feet into the restaurant,” he said. “We had a table in the dining room where they could grab their orders. The staff stayed back and wore masks. We’ve had layoffs, some furloughs and reduced hours. We were able to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and some SBA loans and grants, but the worry is that once those are up, do we have to go back to operating bare bones?”

But as of a May 7 announcement, the state plans to allow restaurants to open outdoor dining areas on May 15 and indoor dining May 21. Though excited for the allowances this will give him to rehire and add more hours, McGarity said there will have to be some changes.

“The quicker we can get back to operating where we were, the better,” he said. “I’m sure there is going to be some social distancing in place and changes to how we operate, but the sooner we can put this behind us, the better. We’ve been able to bring a lot of people back and we’ll have to see where we are in the next two weeks.”

But one thing for McGarity is clear: the smoker is going to be on at Smoked on High – pandemic or not.

“We’re trying our best and we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “The support from the community has been breathtaking. It’s awesome and we love you for it. Barbecue is done low and slow, and that’s kind of how we are operating right now. So, just bear with us.

Smoked on High is at 755 S. High St.

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