BY D’ARCY EGAN
The cars start lining up about 3:30 p.m. at the Sutton Center in Port Clinton, a drive through comfort zone that provides carryout dinners provided by Bistro 163. The hungry folks are grateful for this new version of a very successful pay-it-forward restaurant.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has kept most inside their homes, and away from their jobs and from going to school, many families are struggling financially. Bistro 163, with its fresh farm-to-table fare, prepares its meals from scratch using locally-sourced ingredients.
A large number of those arriving to pick up a dinner, or two, are senior citizens. The pandemic rules that call for wearing face masks, self-distancing by at least six feet from other people, and not gathering in even small groups, has disrupted a lifestyle focusing on senior and social centers.
“It’s pretty lonely these days,” said a grey-haired man, sitting in his car and patiently waiting his turn. “It’s also a little scary, with people wearing face masks and all the shops closed.”
What few expect, when enjoying their first Bistro 163 meal, is how delicious it is. The Toledo Blade food critic awarded the little restaurant a 5-star status a couple of years ago, one of only two in Northwest Ohio, and put Bistro 163 on the map.
Now it’s up to General Manager Babette “Babs” Klacik to maintain that quality. And handle the coronavirus restrictions that has forced them to close the restaurant in favor of the drive-though concept.
Also a problem is funding. Many who take advantage of the free dinners go online to donate with a credit card, PayPal or check at bistro163.org. Community support has been generous, and local social agencies that financially help include the Ottawa County Community Foundation, United Way, Salvation Army, Ottawa County Family Advocacy and Resource Center and Ottawa County Senior Resources.
“We’ve served 7,386 meals so far,” said Klacik this week. “That’s because of the tremendous support we get from volunteers, and donors like Hal and Diane Warnke Hawk, who paid for a whole week of meals.”
More than 30 volunteers help with the 320 meals handed out each evening on Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4-6 p.m. On this day, Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider, and his father, “Snip” Snider, and other volunteers were helping to home deliver about 100 of the meals.
A special Bistro 163 musical fundraiser was developed by former Bistro 163 chef and still board member, Stacy Tenney Maple, now the head of food services at Lakeside Chautauqua. Joining with Ron Miller of The Listening Room and Our Guest Inn in Port Clinton, they had a few songs in their hearts for Bistro 163.
The musical lineup includes Jerry Davenport, Miller, Ron Nisch and Frankie Bickel.
“We deal in intimate music concerts at The Listening Room. Those are off the table right now because of the coronavirus,” said Miller. “We decided to perform a live concert on Facebook on Thursday, April 30 at 7 p.m. We’ll be featuring four local musicians, and hope to give Bistro 163 a real financial boost with the online concert.”