NAPPANEE — Gary Nephew, a co-owner of Ruhe 152, attended Tuesday’s Nappanee City Council meeting “seeking guidance and information” for being able to move forward with outside seating for the downtown restaurant.
“We at Ruhe 152 have invested a significant amount of money in town and our community and I’m hoping to gather guidance for any plans or potential for what would be the next step so we can offer seating in the alley between Graber’s Flooring and Ruhe 152,” Nephew, who, along with his wife, Sara, also owns Nephew Pharmacy, said.
Nephew said he and his business partners, Scott and Kami Tuttle, are advocates for and try to improve Nappanee. He said that prior to opening they discussed plans for outdoor seating.
“We’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and we strongly feel outdoor seating would be a wonderful way for us to offer a much safer environment against the threat of this disease,” he said.
He told council members, some who were physically present and others virtually, that they’ve worked with the city but “unfortunately we’re currently at a stalemate.”
He said he and his partners feel that “In this particular situation, this is in the best interest of the city of Nappanee. Our intent is not selfish by any stretch of the imagination.”
He told council members there are limitations and logistics that are making it complicated for them to move forward. “But it’s doable within federal law, state law and county law and we’re not violating any Nappanee ordinances.
“We’ve yet to find anyone who thinks this is not in the best interest of Nappanee.”
Nephew said he and his partners have made “massive investments” in town and they could’ve made way more money if they invested in Warsaw or Goshen but it wasn’t their hometown and not what they’re passionate about.
“Our goal is to beautify our hometown and now we want to provide (residents) with a safe environment,” he said.
Mayor Phil Jenkins said he wanted to “go on record that I appreciate everything Ruhe has done” and said the city has tried to work with them throughout the whole process. He told the council that he informed Nephew prior to the meeting that this is a Board of Works issue; they’re dealing with a city-owned alley and that is the board that dictates what goes on in the alley.
He told the council that this was addressed at the June 6, 2019, meeting and they put some guidelines together specifying minimum width for pedestrian walkway of 5 feet. The mayor said they listed several things they’d require if they used the alley, including that everything had to be approved by Don Lehman, zoning administrator, and be removable, which they’ve done but he said they feel the length requirement was put in there for a reason.
“Ruhe has been a great asset and great addition to Nappanee and we’re trying to work with them to make things the best we can,” he said.
Council member Denny Miller, who was present in the council chambers, asked Nephew how many seats they could get in the alley if they had to stay within the 5 feet.
“Zero,” Nephew responded. “With 5-foot width it’s financially impossible.” He said they need a radius around the tables and, with the railing, he said, “Technically there’s a nine-inch difference between being able to provide outdoor seating and not being able to.”
Miller commented that outdoor seating would put them on the map of places that offer outdoor seating and Nephew said that was true.
Nephew pointed out that the Board of Works meeting occurred before Ruhe even opened and the initial conversations were based on goals. None of the partners were present at the meeting.
“Once it looked like we could go ahead, we had several conversations with the mayor and Brent (Warren, Nappanee Street superintendent) and were told as long as we were ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant — and that’s 36 inches.”
Council member Amy Rosa, also physically present, said, “Mayor Phil’s right. Ruhe is an asset to the community and I hope as you work with the Board of Works you can come to an agreement.”
Jenkins also told the council that neither he nor Lehman had seen any plans, which was one of the stipulations and they were called about the railing a week ago Friday, which was the first time they knew it was less than 5-feet and they still haven’t seen any plans.
“I can’t make the determination what’s financially viable for you or not,” Jenkins told Nephew. “But the more I think about that alley and narrowing it to 4 feet, I think it’s critical to try to keep it at 5 feet.”
Nephew said he’s been living in Nappanee nine years and has never been to a council meeting and asked if it was standard to treat an alley like a sidewalk. Jenkins responded that the alley is a public right of way and is treated like any other public right of way.
The mayor also shared with the council that he had emailed Scott Tuttle about the meeting where it was going to be discussed and told Tuttle it might require an amendment to the city code and that Tuttle responded to the email so he knows he received it.
Nephew said they take full responsibility for not attending the meeting and went on to say he understands “every industry has been slammed by COVID and my heart breaks for them but none has been impacted more than the restaurant business.”
“We’ve incurred an insane amount of cost through this process,” he said. Nephew went on to explain they’ve had additional costs of flooding issues caused by the alley’s repaving but they haven’t complained.
“I feel we’ve been pretty good neighbors. We’re not asking for handouts; we’re trying to do things the right way and not be a burden,” he said. “We want to be the draw and anchor downtown. We buy our chocolates from Veni’s, our desserts from Pretty Cakery — everything we do is local and that’s done purposefully.”
He said it would be way cheaper outside of Nappanee but they want to support local business. “We need help to be able to continue helping,” Nephew said.
Jenkins invited Nephew to next week’s Board of Works meeting at 3:30 p.m. but Nephew said he couldn’t because he’d be running his pharmacy.
Jenkins read a proclamation declaring September Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Nappanee in conjunction with the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
It declares in part that suicidal thoughts “can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, orientation, income level, religion or background.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 47,000 people die by suicide and it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd cause of death among people aged 10 to 24. He said Nappanee is no different and organizations such as the Nappanee Mental Health Task Force and others are on the battle grounds of this illness that is still considered taboo.
The proclamation states, “Every member of our community should understand that throughout life’s struggles we all need the occasional reminder that we are all silently fighting our own battles. I encourage all residents to take the time to enquire as to the wellbeing of their family, friends and neighbors and to genuinely convey their appreciation for their existence by any gesture they deem appropriate.”
In other business, council heard that the budget will be discussed at the Sept. 21 meeting and a representative from Baker-Tilly would be present as well.