The days of gathering at a local bar or restaurant to watch a professional or college game have been dulled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regulations, social distancing and a reluctance to join in gatherings are all factors.
While times are tougher right now, a sports bar/restaurant in Clarksville, Greene County, is one of many area establishments fighting for survival.
Mike Ozohonish, owner of Ozy’s Bar & Grill, has been in business for 13 years. He and his wife, Kristen, recently added a new dining room. The bar is done in Pittsburgh sports memorabilia, including a poured epoxy bar top with black and white photos.
The theme for the dining room is local high school sports featuring Jefferson-Morgan, Carmichaels and Beth-Center. It is outlined with pictures and other memorabilia of players, coaches and teams.
“Our special features in the dining room are a Cary Kolat bar, and a hand-drawn picture of my uncle (the late Mel Harrison of Carmichaels), who played in (the Pirates’ organization),” Ozohonish said.
The Kolat bar is a tribute to the U.S. Olympian, two-time NCAA and four-time PIAA wrestling champion, who currently is the head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I grew up with Cary in Rices Landing and everyone has followed his career,” Ozohonish said. “It was an obvious focus since our theme was celebrating local high school sports. He’s hands down the best high school athlete that has come from this area, maybe the best high school wrestler of all time. I can’t think of anyone better to feature.”
Ozohonish admits that business is a little different in the face of the pandemic.
“Bar business is not the same as at once was,” Ozohonish said. “When things change, you must adapt and that is when I decided to make our business more food focused and family friendly. The dining room opened this summer. COVID delayed us or we would have been open in the spring.”
He added that his business survived with take-out when the pandemic was in its early stages and the establishment forced to close inside dining,.
“We kept to our budget and spent as little as possible,” he said. “We are still dealing the closure of the bar area because of COVID regulations.”
As for the bar crowds on game days or nights?
“Normally we do (have crowds), but with COVID and the regulations, this has negatively impacted our numbers and crowds,” he said. “Bar seating is not allowed and that is where most of your sports draw comes from.”
Ozohonish, a teacher in the Beth-Center school district, said he did “a ton of research” and with the help of a number of local photographers it allowed him to put on a special display.
In addition to the photographers, especially Randy Miller – who took many of the pictures decorating the walls – and through parents, handmade items, donations and other sources, Ozohonish was able to create a sports atmosphere in the dining room.
He also credited Holly Bercosky, the artist who donated her drawing of Harrison to Ozy’s.
A glance at Ozy’s Facebook page and its pictures shows it has moved the business to delicious looking food with a diverse presentation. Mixed with the sports theme – particularly the local angle – makes it unique.
“That is exactly what we were going for,” Ozohonish said, “an expanded menu focusing on reasonably priced seafood, steaks and barbecue and relatively large portions. So far, our customers have been very responsive to our menu choices and our dine-in and take-out sales have proven this approach has worked well so far.”
Ozohonish’s approach has been to support the community by giving back to children, veterans and people in need through fundraisers, spaghetti dinners and other means.
“We also try to make it an enjoyable place for families to visit where they can get a good meal and keep their kids happy,” Ozohonish said. “During COVID we had the Easter Bunny outside, we decorated for Halloween for the kids, we plan on doing free dinners for veterans on Veteran’s Day. We have done stockings for soldiers at Christmas time, and dozens of fundraisers over the years. We feel this is the least we can do for a community that has supported us for years.
“We have adapted and did whatever necessary to stay afloat,” he added. “It has not been easy with all of the regulations, but I feel if we can survive this challenging time, it will be smooth sailing once we get back to normal. We have followed all of the guidelines that were mandated, and we want to keep our establishment as safe as possible for our customers and employees.
“The support from our community has been great, and they are the main reason we have been able to continue to be successful.”