Craig Mueller, owner of Imo’s Pizza in Washington, will take this year’s Great American Smokeout to a new level.

In addition to donating 10 percent of sales proceeds to the American Cancer Society on Thursday, Nov 17, Mueller will use the day to make a permanent change at the restaurant — one he hopes will impact current and future customers.

Mueller will close the smoking section at the restaurant for good on Nov. 17, the date of the 36th annual Great American Smokeout.

Currently, the smoking section consists of about six tables and 28 to 30 seats.

“We have been thinking about this for a long time,” said Mueller, noting that he has had requests from many customers to make the establishment smoke-free.

“We feel like the public demanded this,” he said.  “We’re trying to provide a family friendly atmosphere and cater to everyone’s needs. It’s very difficult to try to divide the smoking section from the rest of the restaurant.”

As the holiday season progresses, more people will be requesting a private area for gatherings, which Mueller said he now will be able to offer.

Some, he said, may have avoided dining in because there is a smoking section. As a business decision he feels going smoke-free is the right move.

“We find families with children in conflict with that section,” he said. “We found that we really weren’t serving either demographic well.”

Additionally, Mueller hopes to set a good example for his young daughter as well as other area restaurants who may be looking to make the shift to completely nonsmoking.

Mueller said he has weighed the possibility that he might offend customers by making the transition, but hopes that by having excellent products and a nice atmosphere he will be able to retain current customers and attract new ones.

“Ultimately, we hope that people who might have been staying away from the dining room, who have been picking up or using delivery can have that (dining) experience,” he said.

The Union Imo’s location has been smoke-free since opening in early 2007.

This is the first time Mueller has supported The Great American Smokeout, although Imo’s holds fundraisers for various groups throughout the year, including Relay for Life.

“We’re hoping to make a statement that we’re getting behind this, that it’s going to be a permanent change for us,” he said.

Mueller said he will be happy to discuss how the transition goes with other area businesses as he makes the change.

“It’s a personal decision for a smoker to choose to smoke, but it’s also a very powerful decision for parents and groups to say ‘We don’t want to go some place where we may be subject to it,” he said. “We realize that we may be taking a chance, but we feel like it’s the right decision.”