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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Businesses reach out to help downtown restaurants during pandemic

As COVID-19 numbers continue to surge, restaurants downtown are again facing troubling financial times.

INDIANAPOLIS — With COVID-19 cases surging, people told to stay home and winter fast approaching, restaurants face their toughest challenges yet.

"It's slower than I could have ever imagined," said Ross Katz, owner of Rooster's Kitchen on Mass Ave.

Katz is far from alone, with downtown restaurants hit especially hard. That's because many downtown workers who patronize local restaurants have yet to return to the office. That's prompting a call to action to help local restaurants get through the next few months.

"We've been on Mass Ave for four decades, and we really want to support local restaurants and our friends and neighbors here on the Avenue," said Sara Hempstead, CEO of Schmidt Associates, an architectural and engineering firm.

The firm recently gave each of its 100 employees a $10 gift certificate to one of six restaurants along Mass Ave.

"Every little bit is really important to keeping these businesses going," Hempstead said. "I'm hoping it inspires other people to do the same thing. We're moving into Small Business Saturday, which is the perfect opportunity to keep these places in business."

St. Elmo Steak House, meantime, is giving a shout-out to its competitors.

"I never thought I'd say this...but go eat at Shapiro's Delicatessen, Bru Burger Bar, Ruth's Chris Steak House or hit up one of Martha Hoover's spots," said Bryn Jones, vice president of marketing for St. Elmo Steak House. "The point is...please support an industry that is dying before our eyes. Yes, those are all my competitors but they are also the reason people travel downtown and consider downtown a dining destination."

Why would a competitor encourage people to visit other restaurants?

"It just came from a place of empathy, for other restaurants, as a group," Jones said. "We're all in this together. We need all downtown business to be successful. It's really tough out there."

Colts Owner Jim Irsay announced a contest on Twitter aimed helping Indiana restaurants and some of his followers "stuff their faces." The 40 winners will get a $500 gift certificate to their favorite restaurants.

Katz said it all helps, including the gift cards Schmidt Associates just bought from his restaurants.

"That gives us revenue up front to keep payroll going," he said. "We can figure out how to make profits down the road. It's just about keeping employees going, keeping them happy and their bills paid for right now."

Katz noted the gift cards allow people to eat in the restaurant or get carryout now, or wait until later.

Hempstead hopes others will consider buying them as gifts. 

"These mom-and-pop places are so important to the culture and fabric of the city," she said. "Yes, we love them, but more than anything, they are a part of who and what we are as a city, so keeping them around is critical."