Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 10, 2013

Restaurant owners react to smoking ban

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — Local restaurant owners and managers say they aren’t crazy about a proposed statewide smoking ban, and possibly face a reduction in their bottom line if the measure is adopted.

Ron Elliott, owner of the nonsmoking Rajah’s Lunch Bucket, said he’s seen both sides of the smoking issue.

“When I had the big restaurant (Rajah’s) I had a smoking area. Now, we’ve only got 30 or 35 seats and we can’t do that. I don’t like it, but I think that’s every man’s prerogative to have a smoking area,” he said Friday.

Elliott said his former restaurant actually benefited from Ashland’s smoking ban, “because they couldn’t smoke in Ashland they would come out to Rajah’s so they could have a cigarette after dinner ... and they don’t come to the Lunch Bucket because they can’t smoke.” Elliott said several of his former regular customers from Rajah’s have adopted Rosie’s restaurant for their morning gatherings because they are still able to smoke there.

At Rosie’s, on the Boyd/Carter line in the rural community of Rush, owner Christie Wells said she has reason to be concerned about the possible statewide smoking ban because most of her customers enjoy smoking with their meals.

“That worries me. It does worry me that it’s going to hurt us,” Wells said while preparing for a Friday lunch crowd.

The restaurant owner said she does not appreciate the state dictating rules for her business, especially when considering the number of smokers who patronize the restaurant.

“I really don’t like it,” she said, adding cigarette smoke is considered part of the 50-seat restaurant’s open-24-hours total package.

“Most people, if they don’t smoke, don’t come here unless they really like our food,” Wells said, noting many of her nonsmoking patrons time their visits for when fewer smokers are inside.

Angela Vinson, manager at another Boyd County restaurant where smoking is allowed, said her customers will not appreciate being told they can’t light up.

“I can tell you it’s going to suck and that the customers are going to hate it. As does Callihan’s (American Pub & Grill), we get a lot of business just due to the fact that we have a smoking section. We go smoke free on Saturdays and Sundays because of the families that come in, and have people come in and leave when they find out they can’t smoke on weekends,” the restaurant manager said, speaking on condition the restaurant could not be identified because of corporate concerns.

“When downtown establishments went smoke free a few years ago, it was expected to affect business, mainly in the bar areas, but it really didn’t. People will still go out to eat at their favorite places. The fact that the county holds the few places where smoking is allowed has definitely been a plus for the eateries out there, but I’m confident that our customers will still come to us for the food and service that we provide. If it affects the establishments out there at all, it be a small slide in our customer base, but I really don’t think many people come to the county to eat just because they can smoke.”

Nonsmoker Tal Callihan, who owns RJ Kahuna’s Sports Bar & Grill and Callihan’s, said he invested heavily in “smoke eaters” and a ventilation system that allows small, designated smoking areas within each restaurant, and has had few complaints from his fellow nonsmokers.

“It is an investment if you want to do it right,” Callihan said of the ventilation and smoke elimination systems he employs. “I’ve had very few complaints about that at Callihan’s and I’ve been open for about three years now.”

Callihan said his business increased during the past year, although he was uncertain if allowing smoking “had anything” to do with it.

“It did not deter anybody from coming in here,” he said, explaining his additional strategies, including second-floor smoking with more “smoke eaters” in the adjacent nonsmoking section.

A statewide ban might not have a tremendous impact at his business, Callihan said.

“I don’t know if it would hurt my business or not,” he said, noting he enjoys the freedom to make decisions about smoking inside his business, and supports an individual’s right to smoke or not.

“I understand that corporate restaurants don’t have that same ability to respect an individual’s right to choose to smoke,” he said, later adding he won’t raise a fuss if state lawmakers decide his business must be smoke free.

“It’s the government. What can you do about it?”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.