Kenai joins smoke-out

Most restaurants feel little effect from city's new ordinance

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

Now that the smoke has cleared after the city of Kenai's smoking ban went into effect Oct. 2, representatives of most restaurants in town are saying they haven't noticed much impact on their businesses from the ban.

'We haven't noticed a big change. The people who want to smoke go to the Back Door and eat. We're lucky that we have that.'

-- Sandy Williams, manager of Louie's

"Pretty much (the customers) are OK," said Queta Castrellon, manager at Don Jose's Restaurant in Kenai. "I think they pretty much know what's going on. I don't think (the ban) is effecting us much."

The smoking ban outlaws smoking in all eating establishments in town. Smoking is still allowed in bars that serve food and areas of restaurants that are enclosed and separately ventilated from the rest of the restaurant. Smoking also is allowed in patio areas of eating establishments that are open to the sky and eating establishments that are used in their entirety for private functions.

The ban was passed by the Kenai City Council on April 16 and restaurant owners were given several months as a grace period before the ban went into effect to make any renovations they needed to their establishments to comply, if they chose to do so.

Castrellon said Don Jose's did away with all smoking in the restaurant, rather than pay to renovate the restaurant to create a smoking section that would pass muster with the terms of the smoking ban. She said she has gotten some comments from patrons requesting the restaurant put in a smoking section, but the majority of patrons don't seem to mind the ban.

"Most of our customers are happy, now they have more room to sit," she said.

Castrellon didn't think Don Jose's had lost any business because of the ban and said when smokers do come to eat, they go outside to smoke and come back in.

This seems to be the case at other restaurants in town. Jennifer Lee, manager of New Peking, said she hasn't noticed a loss in business or gotten negative comments from customers about the ban. Personally, Lee said she's happy about the ban because she doesn't smoke and now can work in a smoke-free environment.

There still are some spots around town where smokers can enjoy a meal and a cigarette at the same time. Louie's Steak and Seafood banned smoking but also runs the Back Door Sports Bar, where smoking is allowed and food is served.

"We haven't noticed a big change," said Sandy Williams, manager of Louie's. "The people who want to smoke go to the Back Door and eat. We're lucky that we have that."

Ruben's Restaurant and Para-disos allow smoking in their lounge sections. Paradisos enacted a no-smoking policy in its restaurant area months before the city's ban went into effect, said manager Nena Brewer.

"A lot of customers are against the smoke, and we listened to them and, sure enough, we did right," she said.

Ricki's Sourdough Cafe seems to be the one eating establishment in town that reports a negative impact from the ban. The restaurant does operate a lounge area where patrons can smoke and eat, but according to employee Jim Singree, the establishment still lost business. He estimated the restaurant's revenues have dropped more than 50 percent since the ban went into effect.

"It really put an impact on us," Singree said. "... When we had to enforce that, our revenues and cash flow just went zilch."

Singree said the restaurant is a truck stop-type cafe that caters to blue-collar workers, the majority of whom smoke. He estimated the restaurant's smoking patrons outnumbered the nonsmokers two to one. When the restaurant had to start enforcing the ban, Singree said those patrons went elsewhere.

"Our old (customers) who were our loyal patrons who support us all winter long unfortunately are smokers, and they said because of the law being enforced, they wouldn't be back," he said.

The customers said they would go to restaurants outside of city limits that weren't affected by the ban, Singree said. Donna Landford, owner of Ohana's -- formerly the Hitching Post -- in North Kenai, said she has noticed a slight increase in customers since the Kenai smoking ban went into effect, but not a dramatic one.

Tara Petricca, manager of Ruben's, said she was hoping to see an increase in business in their lounge area once the ban went into effect, but so far that hasn't been the case.

"I don't think we've gotten customers because we do serve food in the bar," she said. "We were hoping so, but I guess not. Maybe it's too soon to tell."

On the city's end, enforcement of the ban is in an informational stage, said City Attorney Cary Graves. The city has gotten a couple calls about restaurants that weren't enforcing the ban, Graves said. Those restaurants were essentially just given a warning. They were called and reminded of the effective date, sent a copy of the ordinance and told to call the city if there were any questions.

Graves figures some people forgot about the ban during the six-month grace period before the ban became effective. In light of that, the city will continue its informational campaign when smoking ban violations are reported for the rest of the month and send out reminder letters to all restaurants. After that, however, restaurants could be fined for failing to comply.

Restaurants in the city of Soldotna have been operating under a similar smoking ban since March 31. According to Kay Vega, employee of Mykel's Restaurant, the ban didn't hinder their business.

"We really didn't have a bunch of flack for it, so it really worked out well for us," Vega said. "The ones who have always frequented here, they step outside and smoke their cigarettes, but they still come. We haven't lost any business over it."

The city of Homer is considering a smoking ban, as well, which will be up for a public hearing at the Homer council's Nov. 24 meeting.

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