Holiday Season Brings Good Cheer to Restaurants

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Roasted, succulent turkey covered with gravy. The smell of traditional fish dishes served during the holiday season. Sweet desserts that appear on plates for those special occasions as family and friends get together and celebrate.

The tastes and smells of the holidays are upon us, and area restaurants, caterers and banquet centers are preparing for the seasonal rush.

“We’re booked pretty good through December,” says George Guarnieri, owner of The Fifth Floor restaurant in downtown Youngstown. Since it opened earlier this year, business has been on the increase, he says, and the restaurant expects a solid holiday season based on a mix of parties in its banquet room and casual dinners.

Guarnieri, a veteran of the restaurant business, says the day after Thanksgiving is often slow for the industry because most customers devote that day to shopping. “But we’ve booked a lot of parties, and this year Friday and the rest of the weekend are going to be busy.”

Based on the annual survey conducted by National Retail Foundation, the average consumer is projected to spend $805.65 on holiday merchandise or services. Of this figure, $107.80 will be spent on food, either eaten at home or dining out.

And, although Black Friday shopping is known to deter going to restaurants (other than fast food), those in busy retail corridors stand to benefit at lunchtime and early evening dining.

“As the holiday season approaches, business tends to increase,” observes John Marino, owner of Mojo’s, 6292 Mahoning Ave., in the heart of Austintown’s retail district. “People are out shopping more often, so they’re more apt to stop and get a bite to eat.”

Business holiday parties are also big this month, Marino says, especially with the addition of the Comedy Cellar, which is open on the weekends. “We can cater to small businesses and have the room downstairs to watch comedy,” Marino says. “It really brings people in for the holidays.”

On average, business increases about 20% over the holidays, Marino says. “We’re in a great location. We’re in a high traffic location because of the department stores.”

Mojo’s menu doesn’t deviate much from its standard fare during the holidays, he continues, but specialties such as seasonal desserts and beverages are added to the mix.

“We have a pumpkin cheesecake on special now,” and as Christmas nears, the restaurant serves peppermint-flavored desserts and festive cocktails such as eggnog and gingerbread martinis, he says.

Other restaurants and caterers take time to prepare traditional dishes geared toward holiday celebrations that are grounded in ethnic traditions.

“Around the holidays, I prepare a lot of fish – smelts and calamari –which I don’t carry all the time,” says Anna Ficorilli, owner of LaRocca’s Ristorante in Poland. “We serve traditional Italian food,” she adds, noting that business tends to pick up as people from out of town dine with their families.

At Kravitz Delicatessen in Liberty, owner Jack Kravitz says fried food sells very well during Hanukkah. “The main foods for us are potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts,” he says.

The tradition of using oil during Hanukkah dates to 164 B.C.E. when the Maccabees – a Jewish rebel army – overthrew the Seleucid rule in Judea and re-dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, Kravitz says. However, the Maccabees could obtain only enough oil to keep the menorah lit a single day. As if by miracle, the menorah burned eight days.

“So, anything that fries in oil is great over the holidays,” Kravitz says.

The deli on Belmont Avenue tends to get busier as the weather turns colder, Kravitz adds, because the business sells a lot of hot soups.

And, Kravitz’s catering service, Inspired Catering, is moving ahead with a busy holiday schedule, he says. “We’re doing some interesting things, such as supplying cocoa for the Dana School of Music’s Cocoa and Carols event at Stambaugh Auditorium, and the Arms Museum’s ‘Days of Christmas Past’ event,” he says.

Holiday parties this year should translate into a “very good Christmas season” at Holiday Inn-Boardman, say its general manager, Michael Moliterno. “We’ve booked a few holiday events in January, which is gold for us, since January is a slow month.”

The Holiday Inn-Boardman provides both banquet services and dining at its restaurant, TJ’s.

“The trend isn’t as big as it was 20 or 25 years ago,” he says, when Christmas parties were larger. “Things have changed over the years,” he remarks, “but we’re looking at a very solid year.”

One advantage the hotel offers is its ability to accommodate businesses from outside the area and provide lodging, Moliterno says. “Some have offices that are further away, so they can stay the night,” he says.

This year, the Holiday Inn is hosting the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s annual holiday mixer. “We’re really looking forward to that,” Moliterno says, noting that the mixer will give the hotel an opportunity to show off its renovations and new amenities.

“It’ll give us the opportunity to shine a little bit and put our best foot forward,” he says.

Pictured: Kathleen Fabian, manager of The Fifth Floor, and George Guarnieri, owner of the restaurant in downtown Youngstown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.