Paying it forward in Youngstown
Effort at Westside Bowl keeps business open, people fed
YOUNGSTOWN — It’s relatively quiet nowadays inside Westside Bowl.
There’s no cracking of wooden pins; no howling vocals or guitar riffs from the bowling alley / music venue on the West Side of Youngstown.
Music plays in the bar area and there’s movement in the kitchen, where staff cranks out pizza after pizza after pizza — pies that are given away gratis, all due to the generosity of folks in the Mahoning Valley and from as far West as Seattle and Chico, Calif., and New Jersey to the East.
A pay-it-forward program is helping keep the venue afloat and people fed during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It works like this: call Westside Bowl on Mahoning Avenue and make a donation that would pay for someone else’s pizza. Those ordering can get a free cheese pizza or one with toppings for $2 per topping.
There are about 500 pizzas in line waiting to be given away.
“It’s really been a humbling experience,” said Nate Offerdahl, owner of Westside Bowl. “We were really concerned about what we were going to do, having such a big building and worried that carryout would not be enough to keep us going.”
Before the state’s order limiting restaurants to carryout only in mid-March, carryout accounted for about 10 percent of Westside Bowl’s business.
The order came down the afternoon of March 15 that bars and restaurants had to close by 9 p.m. that night, but there was a carve-out: food carryout and delivery were still allowed.
But was that going to be enough to keep them going?
That was the question Barley Rantilla of Cortland and Steve Wishnewski of Girard, singer / guitarist and bass player for the well-known Youngstown-area metal band Rebreather, which had played the venue several times, asked themselves.
Pay it forward came together when Rantilla and Wishnewski ordered food from Westside Bowl the next day and threw some extra money together to pay for 10 pizzas to anyone who wanted or needed a pizza.
“That place is like our second home. We’re either at a show, playing a show or hanging out there so the place is important to us,” said Wishnewski. “When everything just completely shut down overnight, the only thing they could do was carryout food, and I knew that was going to mean the employees would be limited and none of us could go there.”
“Our big concern was is that (carryout) going to be enough, are enough people going to order,” he said.
Offerdahl recorded a video with Rantilla and Wishnewski and posted it on Westside Bowl’s Facebook page. Within minutes, another well-known area metal /punk rock band, Daggrs, texted Offerdahl offering to buy the next 10. The next day, Youngstown-based Little Blackbird Photo, which photographs the live acts at the Westside Bowl, paid for 10 more pizzas.
“Nate has provided such a good place for entertainment and hanging out and he cultivated a scene a bit … he pulled a lot of people together. His energy and his vibe, his family and how they run that place, there is a lot of people who want to show their appreciation for that,” Rantilla said.
When the order took effect in mid-March, it caused Offerdahl to lay off 85 percent of his staff.
He applied for and received a $10,000 economic injury and disaster loan, and received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, enough to cover two and a half months of payroll.
And under the U.S. Small Business Administration loan he took out for the business, the government is paying his mortgage, principal and interest, for the next six months.
“We’re faring much better than we anticipated,” Offerdahl said. “It’s still a struggle, but we’re very fortunate we have a community around us that wants to see us stick around.”