I have enjoyed both Azra and her fantastic food for the two decades she has been serving it and have known each time I’ve had it just how special it is.
There’s no better fresh Greek salad, the spanakopita melts in your mouth, the cabbage rolls and Shepherd’s pie are hearty and packed with the kind of flavor that love for cooking and sharing it with others can infuse into a dish; the paninis and gyros are filling — exactly what you would hope for with flavor and execution; dolmades and side salads are bright and zippy and help you feel better about gorging later on the fantastic desserts she offers.
It’s no secret that our local restaurants and kitchens were decimated during the pandemic and have continued to struggle to recover with increased costs, staffing issues and razor thin margins.
Chef-owner Maria Walusis of Watermark and Backwater Voodoo has long shared that the struggle for restaurant owners locally and around the country is real and incredibly challenging for local independent owners.
“We are losing more and more local places and it’s heartbreaking. Many places are fighting so hard to stay open. Please support our local restaurants, they need you more than you know,” Walusis wrote on Facebook this week.
Azra’s Mediterranean Cuisine joins a litany of recent announcements from other restaurants announcing their closings. Basil’s downtown Dayton location, the Wellington Grille in Beavercreek, the kitchen at Angie’s Firehouse Tavern in Belmont, KJ’s in Germantown and the Sugar Guild near downtown have all recently closed leaving a hole in our local dining scene.
The Heights Cafe in Huber Heights closed its doors just last week. The closure was announced Thursday on the business’ Facebook page: “After 12 years of serving the community, the Heights Cafe will be officially closed after Saturday, Aug. 20,” the post reads. “Thank you for letting us serve you over the years.”
While there are plenty of restaurants and businesses opening locally, hearing about some of these long-time favorites that have been feeding us for decades is hard to stomach.
There’s no magic answer about how to prevent it from happening — each closing is a story of wrestling with different issues. Closings are brought on by different combinations of health, rent, finances, retirement, staffing, inflation and other outside forces coming together to create the perfect storm for that business.
Still there are things we can do to help support and help out the restaurants, kitchens and staff we know and love.
Here are just a few ideas of small acts that can have great impact when we come together to support.
- Dine out. In order to help you are going to have to dine out. This is a critical first step. Take it.
- Pay with cash. Credit card fees add up. Some restaurants aren’t back to cash, but many are and if you can pay with cash you will help them save 2-3% on the transaction. Hit up an ATM before you go.
- If you are taking it to go, order directly from your restaurant and pick it up yourself. When you skip delivery services you also help out significantly. Delivery apps can take a large cut, so by picking up the food yourself you will be making a difference. Order an extra side or something for lunch tomorrow while you’re at it.
- Tip well. This is not easy work and very often it’s not very thankful work. Show them you appreciate what they do.
- Shop local. What can you purchase from individual small businesses and restaurants? Even adding one or two things to your overall shopping list helps out someone in your community and keeps money circulating in your community.
- Purchase gift cards. If you love a restaurant share it with a friend and keep the love going.
- Write a nice review. It makes a difference both in the short and the long term. If you love something let the world know both on review sites and on your own social media channels. Word of mouth is everything.
- Check in on your people.
It’s hard work being in the business of food. If you have a favorite bartender, waiter, chef or restaurant owner, show them the love and check in to see how they are doing.
And if you need to find me in the next two months head to Azra’s Mediterranean Cuisine at the 2nd Street Market where I will be working to eat through the menu as many times as I possibly can. It will be an exercise in pure joy because her food is just that, and an exercise in sadness knowing at the end of the year that particular joy will be going away.
Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at email@example.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.
How to go
What: Azra’s Mediterranean Cuisine
Where: 2nd Street Market, 600 E. Second St., Dayton
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays