An Indy Restaurant Navigates the Arbitrary Reopening – Shallos Antique Restaurant Will Persevere

An Indy Restaurant Navigates the Arbitrary Reopening – Shallos Antique Restaurant Will Persevere

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Indiana finds itself in the middle of overcoming a situation not of its making and trying to do so under restrictions on which the public had no input and often don’t seem to make sense. Yet, the spirit to endure is strong for Indiana small business, and the public is looking to help by supporting them as much as we can. It’s likely the economic toll of the shutdown won’t be known for some time, which makes it even more important that we continue to support Indiana businesses right now.

The ways that we can help Indiana craft establishments are a bit limited at this time, with taprooms and tasting rooms not even able to open for on site consumption for another three weeks, and restaurants and brewpubs trying to survive under capacity and other restrictions. In Marion County, restaurants and brewpubs are just now being allowed to serve – and even at that it is only outdoor seating. Both the weather and the city/county seem to be conspiring against restaurant owners, yet they endeavor to persevere. As an example we’ll use Shallos Antique Restaurant in Indy (8811 Hardegan St.) right on Marion County side of the border with Johnson County.

I talked to Paul Zoellner, owner of Shallos, about the work his crew is doing to make it through to the other side of this pandemic. For those of you who don’t know Shallos, they are coming up on their fortieth year of business after being founded by Paul Shellaberger (the name was a take on his last name). Paul Zoellner became one of the owners in 2008 and sole owner this year. Zoellner has been in the restaurant business for 33 years and has opened two other restaurants during his time at Shallos. Four hundred package beers in addition to their 48 taps add a distinct craft beer edge to their great food and eclectic décor. Our family likes sitting in the balcony where we can watch Shelly and Doug at work behind the bar and still be able to see all the people having fun while we eat our baskets of homemade chips.

image credit: Shallos Antique Restaurant

Paul told me that, “We had a four hours notice about the shutdown… we were shocked to say the least. I was pretty shell-shocked and needed to sleep on it to get my mind wrapped around it. Shallos has always been the underdog as a true locally family-owned independent restaurant in the heavily corporate Greenwood area, so we have learned to adapt and conquer quickly. It helped playing football through college and learning that the game changes and you have to adapt to win.”

He immediately upped Shallos’ carryout game and also looked for ways to help the community. For them, that meant doing homemade soups and breads for lunch. For anyone who needed something to eat, Shallos was there for them – for free. Employees who had been furloughed showed up to volunteer with carryout and free lunches. They refurbished things in the kitchen and the dining room, and Paul is now stripping and redoing a lot of the wood. That’s dedication on everyone’s part.

While carryout is about 1-2% of Shallos’ business under normal circumstances, Paul told me that he is so appreciative of how Shallos’ fans have come through for them in ordering carryout. This has been a saving grace for the restaurant, and yet the prospects for that continuing to help have been cut dramatically due to the unbalanced opening of the state after the shutdown. Indianapolis/Marion County was set to open under Stage 2 one week after most of the state, and then mayor Hogsett decided to change that.

The restaurants/brewpubs in the capital city would have to wait several more days (don’t think that a matter of days doesn’t make a difference, as a small business owner), and they would only be allowed to have outdoor seating. That’s a big deal for a restaurant with no normal outdoor seating and which is located just a couple of hundred feet from restaurants in Johnson County that can now serve indoors. Shallos’ carryout orders were cut by almost 75% last week when the Johnson County restaurants opened with indoor seating, which shows how much people are wanting to get out of their houses right now, but also highlights the arbitrary nature of some of the reopening regulations.

Moe and Johnny’s in Broad Ripple has put up a tent for serving outdoors but rules come with it. It can’t be more than 3200 sq. fgt., it can’t have sides, and it can’t exceed 50% of the indoor capacity. Unfortunately, Shallos doesn’t have room for this kind of set up. image credit: Moe & Johnny’s

Restaurants had made plans to reopen under the state plan, only to hear different from Mayor Hogsett. The more restrictive policy for Marion County was sprung on restaurant owners just a couple of days before they were set to open back up, and the new measures for outdoor only seating had to be planned for in just a few days as well. I asked Paul if he had called back employees and made decisions on the reopen when he learned he would have to adapt again. He said, “No, I hadn’t called people back to work, but I was close to pulling the trigger. I waited to hear what the Mayor was going to say, and was glad I didn’t have to make a second set of phone calls.”

I also asked if Hogsett consulted Marion County restaurant owners on the policies that would govern the reopening. I got a short and emphatic response, “No!!” Here is a guy with over three decades of restaurant experience in Marion County, and not only was he not asked his opinion or to suggest some ways to best manage this situation – that seems so odd. Paul now says that he can’t even get the Mayor’s office on the phone to get clarification on some of the issues.

The outdoor seating-only order has been a strange thing for people to fathom, let alone maneuver around. The city is trying to be helpful by allowing free permits for patios and extended patios for restaurants, but the total seating outdoors can be no more than 50% of the establishment’s total seating under normal conditions – it gives with one hand and takes with the other. The permits are free, but if you want to put up a canopy tent of more than 3200 sq. ft. to deal this this cold, wet spring, it will cost you. The outdoor seating is allowed, but it has to be contiguous with your restaurant property, and you have to allow a right of way or have your street shut down by the city – outdoor seating is healthier, but they won’t allow enough outdoor seating to make it worth it for many restaurants to open.

The street closures aren’t popular with restaurants or other businesses, and it certainly looks as if Mayor Hogsett is picking winners and losers in this period of turmoil. image credit: City of Indianapolis

A restaurant can’t share outdoor space with another restaurant – and while they think they are helping – shutting down traffic on five streets in Indy for outdoor seating is going to have a bigger negative effect than positive. Yes, in select places, restaurants are being aided by closing off parts of certain streets so they can use the sidewalks and parking spaces for tables. Since Shallos isn’t in one of those five regions (Mass Ave, Georgia St., South Monument Circle, Broad Ripple Ave, and Illinois St.), they could actually lose business to those “Mardi Gras-like areas” as Paul referred to them. He said, “I see a unfair playing field for our restaurant. If they can close streets down in Marion County why can’t they allow restaurant within a distance to the county line borders to open up like the adjoining counties?” Heck, the Indianapolis Star on Sunday said even restaurant owners on Mass Ave. aren’t happy with the plan to shut down the street – they weren’t consulted and could have come up with better ways to do it.

Non-restaurant businesses aren’t happy with the street shutdowns either, but we’ll stick to the restaurant angle for now. Shallos is working out how to haul some of their tables outside each day and then take them in each night so they can serve some patrons at least, but even in this Paul sees an opportunity. He is hoping that the temporary roping and tables could become permanent in the future. The landlord for the Shallos location changed at the first of the year, and they have been more amenable to making some changes. Paul is willing to upgrade the concrete and put in some very nice looking borders and tables in an effort to have outdoor seating all every spring, summer, and fall. So who knows, there could be a silver lining to this cloud. The post-shutdown environment will also include addressing the long-term viability of growler fills by retailers; this was another important factor in keeping restaurants with good beer lists going during the shutdown.

As for now, Shallos is looking to trying to make plans to maximize their support of their Indiana fans and to work out some outdoor seating with “the higher ups.” Paul told me, “We’ll try to follow our normal hours but will see. Greenwood restaurants look busy from my 200 yard disadvantage point, so hopefully people will come see us. And we will certainly follow any protocol our Governor suggests.”

The situation isn’t ideal by any means, but as fans of Shallos, we need to make sure that they get all the support we can give them in this time of need. Paul wants everyone to know, “We have been humbled by all the customer support! They have been amazing and we will never be able to show them how much they mean to us. My heart breaks for those mom and pops that have closed. Please continue to go to your local independent restaurant to eat… we need your support more then ever!”


banner image credit: The A-list: City Voter

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