One of downtown Corbin’s most popular, and traditionally smoker friendly, restaurants plans to clear the air for customers when it officially goes smoke free next Monday.
Owners of The Depot on Main restaurant and bar say the move to voluntarily ban smoking in the restaurant is one months in the making – and is something they think will improve business.
"We have been told by some people that they don’t come in here because of the smoke," said Holly Curry, co-owner of The Depot on Main. "Hopefully, our regular customers that smoke aren’t going to ditch us. I don’t think they will. We just want to improve the quality of the restaurant and the dining experience for all of our customers."
Curry, a long time smoker struggling with giving up the habit, said she was convinced to make the move after coming into the restaurant recently and noticing the smoke. It wasn’t until she started to quit, she said, that she noticed how bothersome the smoke could be. She and her husband Rick have owned the Depot since it opened in 2004.
Bruce Carpenter, part owner of The Depot and Corbin’s Director of Economic Development, said he has been advocating the idea of going smoke-free for some time. He was convinced the move was the right thing to do in February when officials with the Whitley County Health Department presented the Corbin City Commission with facts regarding the devastating health effects of secondhand smoke. The Commission was poised to take action on a proposed smoking ban in all Corbin restaurants, but took no action.
"I don’t remember all the stats they gave there, but I think it was an eye opener about what the effects of second hand smoke are and what it can lead to," Carpenter said.
Curry is President of the Corbin Restaurant Association, the larger of two non-profit groups that represents restaurant interests in the city. When city officials were mulling a smoking ban citywide, she was critical of the plan. She said her recent decision to make The Depot smoke free has not made her abandon her previous stance.
"I don’t agree with a smoking ban," Curry said. "It’s nice for me, as a restaurant owner, to be able to make the choice rather than someone else making the choice for me. That’s the bottom line."
Leah Norvell, Director of the Corbin Community Coalition – a local non-profit group comprised of area school, business and government officials formed to fight the negative effects of drugs, alcohol and tobacco among youth in the community – called The Depot’s decision to go smoke free "exciting." Norvell was one of the leaders of a recent effort to convince the city’s Board of Commissioners to pass a smoking ban.
"I think it will increase their business there because there are so many places people simply don’t go because of the smoke," Norvell said. "I know I will be patronizing it more often. I think their decision will set a precedent for other similar restaurants with bars when they see The Depot succeed."
Norvell added that she is pleased the Health Department’s presentation on secondhand smoke had an impact on the decision and called it a "major victory" for the Coalition’s efforts.
"I knew Bruce was very much for a smoking ban and I’m glad his other partners have joined him on it," she said. "It’s good to see a restaurant like The Depot is taking a look at the big picture of how they are affecting their customers and their employees."
Cathy Lay, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator for the Whitley County Health Department, said her presentation to Corbin leaders in February was just a "shot in the dark" in an attempt to advocate for employees who work in smoke-filled environments.
"You just hope you reach somebody and that they listen to you and evidently, somebody did," Lay said. "The Depot is being a role model and a leader. They are showing they care about their workers’ health and the health of the people that eat there. I think it’s a great decision."
Curry said another factor in her decision was the fact that many of her long time customers have had children in recent years that they often bring to the restaurant.
Jim Malone, of Corbin, a dedicated patron since The Depot opened, said he doesn’t think going smoke free will have a negative impact. A smoker who only recently kicked the habit, he said he would remain a loyal customer.
"It doesn’t bother me a bit. I think it is a wise decision from a business standpoint," Malone said. "A lot of people won’t come in here because of the smoke … You couldn’t hold a gun on me and keep me out of here. I love this place."
"The person that is going to drink a beer, he ‘s going to drink a beer whether he can smoke or not. He can go outside and smoke."
Curry said she plans to put benches and ashtrays in front the restaurant under the awning for smokers. Also, owners plan to construct a covered deck in the back of the restaurant for patrons who want to smoke.
"We are going to provide a real nice place for them if they want to smoke. I think it will work out good."