Papa Del’s converts to smoke-free dining

By Christine Won

Papa Del’s Pizza, located at 206 E. Green St., Champaign, went smoke-free last Monday, Oct. 10.

Owner Bob Monti said he decided to “wing it” and went smoke-free after the Champaign City Council rejected the citywide smoking ban in restaurants and bars in September.

Andrea Monti, Bob’s daughter, said her father hated having children near second-hand smoke or having to eat around people who were smoking.

Andrea, assistant manager at Papa Del’s, said her father decided to go smoke-free for several reasons. Bob Monti saw that other smoke-free restaurants were still doing well and not as many customers were sitting in the smoking section.

“To me, Papa Del’s going smoke-free is what I prefer to see,” said Marci Dodds, Champaign City Councilwoman. “I prefer to see businesses make that choice themselves.”

She understands business owners worrying that it would be an economic drain and applauded Papa Del’s for making their decision.

“It’s a brilliant move – it shows they’re ahead of the curve,” said Champaign City Councilman Tom Bruno. “It will attract more customers who want to dine in a smoke-free environment.”

Bob Monti put up a sign for almost four weeks notifying customers of Papa Del’s decision. He had wanted to go smoke-free for about eight months, he said.

At lunchtime, Andrea Monti said there would be people waiting for the non-smoking section while the smoking section was almost completely empty. Sororities or companies from Chicago would reserve non-smoking tables for 40 to 60 people a few times a week, she said.

She has seen more families and students coming into the restaurant, she said. There has been an increase in business now that the restaurant can seat more people faster.

A few regulars said they would come back more often now that they don’t have to wait for non-smoking tables, she said.

“From what we’ve seen – whether it’s people calling or people coming up after they eat, it’s an almost 100 percent positive feedback,” Andrea Monti said. “We’ve had people putting National Lung Association stickers on their credit card receipts to show their support.”

The restaurant put out ashtrays a few feet away from the door so customers can smoke outside. The ashtrays are far enough so non-smoking customers are not subjected to smoke. The patio section is also smoke-free.

Andrea Monti said there had been a few people who won’t be coming back, but some of them will take food to go or smoke outside the door.

It’s inevitable that more and more businesses will go smoke-free as society becomes more aware of the hazards of smoking, Bruno said.

Diana Yates, communications coordinator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said businesses want to go smoke-free but are afraid of losing customers.

Christopher Cabrera, assistant manager at Qdoba, said Qdoba has been smoke-free since it was established almost two years ago. There has never been a need to reserve a smoking section because people just smoke outside, he said.

“The part of the rationale for a city-wide ordinance is that it’ll be uniform across the area, so if the smokers want to eat or drink, they’re going to end up in a smoke-free joint,” Yates said.

Champaign County Deputy Mayor Michael La Due said non-smokers have more options.

“There isn’t a single coffee house that I’m aware of in Champaign where you’re allowed to smoke,” La Due said. “I’m a consumer and I make my choices, but I don’t patronize the cafes (for being smoke-free).”

Gerald Schweighart, mayor of Champaign, said market choice is the way it should be and decisions should be left to the individual.

“It’s incumbent on local government to support the widest variety of choice for our constituents,” La Due said. “Let people make the choices. Obviously Papa Del’s has made theirs.”