Mojo World Eats & Drink in Cleveland Heights had been open less than two months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the state mandated all nonessential businesses to close.
Owner and chef Michael Herschman went from planning a brunch menu and opening the patio to questioning if Mojo would survive to see its first birthday.
But with creativity, flexibility, attention to detail and hard work, Herschman believes Mojo’s small plate dishes and drinks will continue to delight guests’ taste buds well into the future.
Following the restaurant’s shutdown in March, Herschman altered operations to provide curbside takeout. Herschman’s wife and two teenage sons replaced the staff to reduce costs.
“I was most concerned if I could do this,” Herschman, a Cleveland Heights resident, told the CJN. “Everybody learns to wear many hats per se, but how many hats can you wear?”
Takeout orders picked up to a point where Herschman was able to consider reopening Mojo’s dining room and patio, as well as bringing back some personnel.
Before he could welcome guests in, Herschman wanted to make sure he could provide a dining experience where guests’ fears of the pandemic could be checked at the door.
“If you go into a restaurant, but you’re feeling uneasy about its safety factors, that nervousness makes the acidity in your pH level in your mouth increase,” Herschman said. “I don’t care how tasty the food I made for you (is), it’s going to taste terrible. The first impression with sanitation was critical to us for the right reasons, No. 1, keeping guests safe, No. 2, keeping my staff safe and No. 3, just adjusting to the new normal the best we could and going above and beyond.”
The entire restaurant is frequently sanitized through fogging, detailed surface, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and microbe prevention system cleanings, Herschman said.
There are numerous hands-free hand sanitizer stations placed throughout that Herschman made using hi-hats from a basement drum set, cedar planks, hardware and bottled sanitizer. All dishes, silverware, glassware and linen are cleaned with certified sanitation, as are dining/kitchen spaces, tabletops, chairs and doors before and after use. Restrooms are also frequently cleaned.
When guests arrive to Mojo, they are asked to wear a mask and remain wearing it whenever they are not seated. Guests are also screened for wellness upon entering and their temperature is taken. Sick guests or those experiencing symptoms will be asked to leave the restaurant. Once the wellness screening is passed, guests are asked to sanitize their hands, and the bottoms of their shoes are sprayed with a disinfectant by a Mojo staff member.
Mojo’s staff is required to wear masks and gloves, and is subject to the required wellness check. Ill staff members or those experiencing symptoms are not permitted to work. The staff is trained in protective programs and disinfection protocols.
Herschman created Mojo’s safety protocols using a mix of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Ohio Department of Health, as well as seeing what restaurants or organizations locally, nationally and internationally were doing.
Since reopening June 3, Herschman believes the safety protocols have helped bring increased business to Mojo.
“We’re picking up every day, every week,” Herschman said. “The regulars are coming back, and there’s new people coming in more and more.
“When someone comes in and says, ‘We really had a good time tonight; we really felt safe. This was our first meal dining out since all this happened,’ we really take that seriously. One, you just earned a new client, so that’s business to look forward to. Two, that type of consumer confidence is the new model and is really important. In no way shape or form are we taking that for granted.”
To Herschman, who’s now fully in tune with every economic aspect of his restaurant, the cost of safety has no price tag.
“Two things right now are very important in this world: be a mensch and tikkun olam,” Herschman said. “As a small business owner, I have an obligation to my staff, my customers and my family. I also have responsibilities to make sure that my business is viable and sustainable going through this. Is there a little bit more out of pocket because I have to have all these protocols? Yeah. But I’m very confident in Mojo’s future. Everything’s one day at a time – we just have to make sure that every customer is blown out of the water.”