Bistro forced to eliminate its increasingly popular 'Pups on the Piazza' Tuesdays.

CANTON  Dining out with the doggy at Gervasi Vineyard is no longer allowed, due to enforcement of a state regulation by the city's Health Department.

Scott Swaldo, general manager of the Italian bistro, told customers on Facebook and through the restaurant's website this week that Gervasi has cancelled its increasingly popular Pups on the Piazza and Patio.

Since July 2016, the restaurant has allowed patrons to bring dogs to its outdoor patio from noon to closing on Tuesdays. On some Tuesday nights, up to 30 customers could have dogs with them in an area that seats up to 190.

At least two patrons took offense to the presence of the dogs, however, and last week complained to the Stark County Health Department.

Because Gervasi is in the city and under the jurisdiction of the Canton Health Department, the county referred the complaints.

A city health inspector visited Gervasi, on 55th Street NE, on Friday. She didn't find any dogs, but told them that a state health regulation prohibits the presence of dogs in an outdoor dining area except for service dogs that aid people with disabilities, law enforcement patrol dogs and sentry dogs.

Mark Adams, the Canton Health Department director of environmental health, said in his 25 years working for the department he couldn't recall a prior complaint of an animal other than a service animal being in a restaurant.

"It's just something we have not seen ever," he said.

He said he's not aware of a situation where a disease outbreak resulted from a dog being in an outdoor dining area. But the law is the law.

Swaldo said that with the nearby Middle Branch Trail, where customers often took their dogs on walks, customers asked that their dogs be allowed to accompany them to meals out on the Piazza patio.

"People work a long day. They want to spend their evening in a beautiful outdoor experience, and they want to spend time with their companion and not leave their dog at home," said Swaldo, who owns two dogs. "People enjoy being around other dog owners. ... I think they like to socialize their dog. It's good for dogs to be around other dogs."

The Gervasi general manager said that when three customers complained about the dogs being there, he referred them to other areas of Gervasi where dogs were not permitted. He said the restaurant never had any issues with the animals.

Gervasi allowed the dogs only on Tuesdays under a set of rules. For example, the owner had to keep the dog on a leash and attend to the dog at all times. Owners had to clean up any dog droppings. The dogs could only be in the Piazza, the nearby lawn and brick path. Only well-behaved dogs were allowed. No female dogs in heat were permitted. Dogs had to be current on their shots.

It's not clear the reason that led to the Ohio Department of Health adopting the state regulation against animals in outdoor dining areas.

In Columbus, some customer complaints led to the Franklin County Public Health Department warning restaurant owners in the spring that allowing dogs on their patios violated the state's food safety code.

In response, state Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, who owns two dogs, introduced House Bill 263, which would allow dogs in outdoor dining areas.

She said several other states allow dogs to join their owners for a restaurant meal outside, and in her research she had found no health issues linked to the presence of the dogs.

"I think it's important that businesses have this option," Lanese said. "This gives (dog owners) an option to eat out more. To socialize more with their friends if they could bring their dogs with them."

Reach Robert at (330) 580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP