The List: Welcome TownHall to the Short North by revisiting its past controversies!

Andy Downing
adowning@columbusalive.com

It’s been nearly three years since the popular Cleveland restaurant and bar TownHall announced it would be expanding to Columbus. Now, following a series of delays, the eatery is finally expected to open its Short North doorssometime later this week.

Word of an opening followsan August report that TownHall was on the verge of being evicted from the Short North location, a report that emerged amidan ongoing legal entanglement between the restaurant group and the building’s developer, Crawford Hoying. 

Of course, legal disagreements are nothing new for TownHall and owner Bobby George, who onlyrecently settled a lawsuit filed against the alt-weeklyCleveland Scene

Here are some of the additional controversies in which the restaurant has found itself embroiled in recent years.

TownHall Cleveland General Manager accused of making racist comments

In May 2020, TownHall General Manager Ryan Hartzell engaged in a Facebook argument in which he replied to a commenter by writing, “If you hate this country so much go back to the one you came from,” in a since-deleted post. The restaurant subsequently released a statement calling Hartzell’s comment “insensitive,” while keeping him on staff. Cleveland Scene initially wrote that Hartzell’s words were directed at a Black woman (Hartzell was actually addressing a former TownHall employee of Ukrainian descent and the paper later updated the story to reflect this reality), and this mistake formed the basis for the lawsuit filed against Scene by TownHall and Hartzell.

Racking up COVID-19 safety complaints

Over the summer, Cleveland’s TownHall topped the list of city businesses against which safety complaints had been issued. According toa report by cleveland.com, 32 complaints were brought against the restaurant/bar between March 20 and July 21, the most in the city over that stretch.The report noted that on July 17, the Cleveland Department of Public Health issued a violation and gave TownHall a warning for issues regarding face masks and overcrowding. 

In response, a spokesperson for TownHall said the complaints might have been prompted by the brand’s habit of touting controversial health tips online.“We have recently re-shared (from other sources) several posts on nutrition via our social media, which has caused a stir online,” Kayla Barnes, the director of communications for TownHall,told cleveland.com. “We have reason to believe that these social postings have prompted these calls, despite all social distancing and mask policies being followed.”

Bobby George appears to defy mask mandates

Of course, some of it could be traced toreports like this one, in which News 5 Cleveland visited TownHall in an attempt to speak with George about mask non-compliance complaints made against the business, encountering a maskless George. Asked why he was not wearing a mask inside the business, George claimed he had “just put it away” and was “about to leave.”

TownHall sues Dr. Amy Acton and Gov. Mike DeWine

The eatery was among a group of restaurants thatsued Acton and DeWine in early June over coronavirus restrictions, which the group described as “vague” and “unconstitutional.” Similar complaints against COVID restrictions surfaced more recently in the Columbus filing against Crawford Hoying, in whichthe state’s reopening rules are described as “excessive and onerous.”

Questionable employee relations

Aside from wage issues thathave landed in court, George and TownHall have also been called out on social media, witha former employee alleging that George had asked her to survey fellow female employees on things such as weight gain, among other charges.

Early TownHall Columbus rendering