The people at the Peppy Grill are smoking mad. Workers at this 24-hour diner in Fountain Square say the citywide smoking ban that took effect March 1 has had a major impact. “We’ve lost more than 50 percent of our business,” waitress Terry Trosvig says. “Some of our regulars said that they’ll never come back.”
Most restaurants in the city are affected by the ban voted into place last year by the City-County Council. Smoking is now allowed only at private clubs, bowling alleys, bars and restaurants that don’t admit patrons under 18.
Non-smokers across the city are certainly pleased by the change. But this is a city full of smokers, ranking third in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control. This city has a lung-cancer rate that’s 50 percent higher than the average across the United States and high levels of heart disease, asthma and strokes. All of these things are common problems for the low-income residents who live near the Peppy Grill.
Forcing their hand
You can find a place like the Peppy in almost every city in America. It’s the perfect greasy spoon, the kind depicted in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. But, at least for now, many of the booths sit empty.
“I just don’t understand why things have to change like this,” Trosvig says. “We have a non-smoking room right there.”
She points to a room separate from the grill. It’s separated from what used to be the smoking area by a large pane of glass, with Welcome to Peppy’s still painted on it, and a glass door that closes the other room off entirely. “It has its own ventilation system, heat, fan and air conditioner. Why isn’t that good enough?” Trosvig asks.
Proponents of the smoking ban hope it will help with the health of workers, like Trosvig, who would have to breathe smoke at work, like it or not. Studies have shown second-hand smoke is also a major health risk.
Several customers get up and walk outside with their cups of coffee, cigarettes already in their mouths. “We let them take their drink with them,” Trosvig says. “It’s all a big joke. I smoke, too; now I have to do it outside by the dumpsters. I hate this. Look, I could maybe understand this if we were a franchise restaurant chain. I mean, they probably have different rules anyway. But if a business is privately owned how can they regulate what that owner has to do? It really should be up to the owner.”
Marty Cowley, a customer sitting nearby, chimed in: “Yeah, my buddy got a letter the other day from the city. It says that he can’t smoke in his building; he owns a car lot. Now, that just ain’t right. How can they tell him what to do in his own building? And here? Everybody used to hang out here. Eat, drink coffee — not anymore.”
Just become a bowling alley
This was the outcome the people at the Peppy Grill anticipated, as many of its customers were heavy smokers who lived nearby.
“The owner thought about every option when this law was passed,” Trosvig says. “She thought about making Peppy’s 18 or older. But we just couldn’t do it. You know what someone on the City Council told her? They said that if she wants people to be able to smoke and not have an age restriction then she should build a one-lane bowling alley in here. Can you imagine?”
You can smoke in Speedway
Meanwhile, restaurants in nearby Speedway are exempt from the ban due to its status as a separate city within the umbrella of Marion County. “I’m glad that everyone can smoke in here. We had thousands of signatures from people who said they would never eat in here again if the restaurant was smoke-free,” says Alvina Delossantos, manager of the Buffalo Wild Wings in Speedway.
Although some families have been upset when they came in to eat Alvina says that most of the comments she gets are positive.
“I’m a smoker,” Alvina says. “I’ll only visit places that allow me to smoke, so I understand. Most of my employees are smokers, too. We’re all pretty happy about this. And, I don’t know if this is because of the ban in Indianapolis, but business has been great. We’ve been really busy lately.”