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Tampa Bay bartenders and laundry non-profit join forces in pandemic fight

COVID-19 has impacted numerous industries around the country. One of the hardest hit industries is the bar industry where bartenders have constantly found themselves in shutdowns with rent still due and clothes that needs washing.

Recently, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation closed bars and breweries around the state as virus cases continue to spin out of control due to very little regulation or engagement from Tallahassee.

Once again numerous bartenders have found themselves without work. Meanwhile some restaurants are breaking the rules with impunity.

I talked recently with Justin Gray from the United States Bartenders’ Guild chapter in Tampa Bay, a long time supporter of the industry and one of the best local bartenders I know.

I wanted to get the story behind how they ended up partnering with a non-profit called Current Initiatives and their Laundry Project which is “committed to educating and mobilizing communities to be Hope Dealers” for a project called A Drink Pocalypse that is raising money for bartenders and also for Current Initatives.

Supporters can purchase videos on cocktail techniques from experts around the Tampa Bay at the low cost of $10 and help support the industry and those who need it most.

Carlos Eats: What’s the story behind the partnership between USBG Tampa Bay Chapter and Current Initiatives?

JG: There isn’t a backstory – there is the reality of restaurant closures and the response to COVID-19. It was unexpected and something that none of us knew how to prepare for.

When it happened more than anything it was kind of a sense of emergency. I don’t think it was something light-hearted. We need something now.

USBG and bartenders…we’ve had meetings and conversations. A Drink Pocalypse happened in late April, while restaurants and bar were initially closed in March. We as an industry hadn’t figured it out.

There was a sense of urgency.

Carlos Eats: So survival pretty much?

JG: Sam Adams did something. Guy Fieri too. However too many people are impacted for one of those to have an actual lasting effect. Seeing how many people lost their jobs nationally, there is no way for those programs to guarantee that the assistance would come into our zip codes.

We wanted to do something where all funds would be kept right here in Tampa. Open to anyone throughout the Bay Area. The candidate pool was smaller.

That’s what drove us.

Carlos Eats: How can people help?

JG: Current Initatives has been around. When the restaurant closures happened, they extended their programs to include the hospitality programs.

What a lot of people aren’t thinking about. One of the most unfortunate things is the number of places that are permanently closed. We aren’t counting how many places have closed permanently or indefinitely.

Even though some restaurants are open, we are going to continue to provide help as long as we can.

Cocktail videos from bartenders from M. Bird, Copper and Shaker, the best bars in Tampa will show you different cocktail techniques. The video is a learn video.

As a bar manager or owner, you can purchase this video and they have incredible techniques that can be implemented. Sales go directly to Current Initiatives.

Buy the videos to support bartenders. Whether people are philanthropic or just to learn. The value is far beyond $10.

Carlos Eats: What do you think the state or city should be doing to help?

JG: I don’t want to make this sound like it is only a bartender phenomenon. If I can get sick at a bar, I can get sick anywhere else. The policy is inconsistent.

The situation is like this: either people go hungry or people lose their lives. Either people pay rent or people pay their lives. It’s an impossible situation and it is absolutely necessary that institutions – that they be there.

Stimulus checks can be good or bad. We need to halt rent payments. Our government has to care enough about us. The numbers in Florida are record breaking, at the same time people cannot afford not to have money.

None of us citizens are able to stop the coronavirus. There is nothing we as citizens can do besides looking at our government. Please continue to provide support. People are not able to work.

It’s time for us to look at how the government can continue to extender rent or mortgage deferments. The government is the only one who can help us.

Everyone needs help.

The more people that buy the video the better.


I then wanted to get more of the story behind Current Initiatives so I talked with the Founder Jason Sowell. He is a native Floridian who has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years. He is a public speaker, writer, non-profit entrepreneur, missionary, wedding officiant & podcast host.

Carlos Eats: Can you start off with the history behind Current Initiatives?

JS: Current Initiatives started 12 years ago. Our first initiative was The Laundry Project. Out of learning stories about families that live in the area, I learned laundromats are expensive and not a fun place.

Lots of families struggle between groceries or laundry. I sought to turn laundromats into community centers and provide free laundry for those in need. I had big expansions plans for new locations and citizens, then the pandemic happened.

Things shut down. I pivoted back to Tampa – which is my home that I love. Recognizing that it is not just lower income families. People are out of work. The hospitality industry is hit hard. People will struggle to do their laundry.

I sat down with Mayor Jane Castor and TPD and I said we need to keep doing this. I told them I hope they will keep laundromats an essential business.

Carlos Eats: Would volunteers be helpful?

JS: We typically use volunteers, but shut down most of it due to the pandemic. A few bartenders and servers are personal friends that were laid off and hadn’t participated before then offered to help.

The hospitality industry got involved as volunteers and for 3 months teams of hospitality workers have worked 3 days a week to help in laundromats. 1 day a week is for hospitality workers. Bartenders went to bars and restaurants and told people about the project. Whoever needs can sign-up.

Carlos Eats: How can the general public help?

JS: Donations are what we are seeking. People can contact to volunteer when things get better. The need has been great. Typically we do 80 projects in a year, but in 16 weeks we have done 48 projects. Much more than usual. We don’t have plans to slow down.

Carlos Eats: What policy solutions could be used to help?

JS: A huge block of citizens who use laundromats are there by force. Prices at laundromats are what they are due to policy decisions. At home you pay for water by the gallon, but laundromats pay in tiers which strains operators and raises prices on citizens. It’s a slim-margin business.

Carlos Eats: How else can the government make a difference?

JS: Government assistance is usually only for food. People cannot use it for household supplies. Nor can they use it at a laundromat which is a problem.

Also – lower-income families are operating on cash. Politicians are pushing cashless which is harder on lower-income families who may not have bank accounts for contact-less payments and the hospitality industry which is paid in cash from tips.

There is a coin shortage due to a shutdown at the mint. Politicians need to get creative to get quarters to help families who need to wash their clothes. Bad policy can make things worse for people already struggling.

We as a society need to think about doing things in way that is dignifying for people getting help or empowering. Decisions during the coronavirus unintentionally are hurting lower-income families because leaders are not thinking things through.

Carlos Eats: I agree. The shutdown of bars and breweries is a perfect example of rushed decision making.

JS: Yes – that shutdown depends largely on license types. If you are coded for a restaurant you are allowed to operate, while other businesses close.

If I had to home in on a temporary measure we need to take, we need to make it easier for people out of work to get funds for things they need. Unemployment access.

Some bartenders have spent weeks and months helping other bartenders that need help, while struggling themselves to get on unemployment. That needs to change.

Carlos Eats: Thank you for your time. I know I learned a ton.

//

Support the United States Bartenders Guild in Tampa Bay at A Drink Pocalpyse (www.adrinkpocalypse.com).

Visit The Laundry Project by Current Initatives online at laundrybycurrent.org.

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NEWS: Publix finally mandates masks for shoppers

The pandemic has been a doozy but one constant in Florida has been the very vocal arguments between anti-mask shoppers and regular people trying to survive in grocery stores and society in general. Ironically, most polls show that the anti-mask people make up a very small but loud minority. The issue has been widely politicized much to dismay of healthcare experts nationwide.

Masks are one of the only defenses that society has against the Coronavirus.

Recent studies show that wearing a mask not only protects others from you, but also protects you from other people who are shedding the virus. It really helps explain why cases are so much lower in other countries who never shutdown but distributed masks widely, although many of them have also instituted other aggressive methods as well such as contact tracing and strict criminal penalties for violating pandemic laws.

Publix initially resisted employees who wanted to wear masks and then eventually came around to providing plexiglass and social distancing guidance as well as masks, but still refused to enforce masks in their stores for customers. There have been several cases of COVID-19 documented from employees at more than 20 Publix stores who were likely exposed to the virus by shoppers who didn’t care about the people bagging their groceries.

Once re-opening began in May, many Publix shoppers stopped wearing masks at all and it was business as usual as the virus started to spread faster and faster. On one visit on June 8th, I witnessed an entire produce aisle filled with dozens of people not social distancing or wearing masks. To be frank, I was horrified. I did not go back to Publix for weeks.

Once Hillsborough County and City of Tampa passed emergency mask ordinances in late June, I had to run to the store and decided to give Publix another shot nearly one month later. To my surprise, 100% of the shoppers were wearing masks and so were the employees. A huge difference. The mask orders have made a difference.

Unfortunately, these actions have come late and Florida’s COVID-19 growth is out of control. Florida added 100,000 cases in 10 days. The daily death toll and hospitalizations are climbing.

We are heading towards another shutdown that will have devastating economic impacts on the state. 6 Tampa Bay Publix locations had virus cases in July so far despite mask orders. Imagine if companies and politicians would have acted early to stop the spread instead of removing responsibility from each other.

Finally – now Publix is saying that they will mandate masks for all shoppers except children and those with medical conditions starting Tuesday, July 21st.

It’s late – but always better than nothing. They are not alone as other big names like Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, and other retail companies begin to mandate masks nationwide. America is in a crisis.

I hope these mandates will at least help the “essential” workers who have been forced into this mess without any leadership until now.

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Dining Guide: Food and Wine Festival Faves

Don’t go you jerks. There is a pandemic and 150+ Floridians died today. Get it together Florida! Nearly 5,000 Floridians have died in 2020 from COVID-19.

Latest info: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/usa/florida/

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Recipe: Mom’s Refried Black Beans

Here’s a great recipe for refried black beans that I get from my Mom. These go great with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love them with eggs for breakfast, added in sandwiches, and also as a side to any meat dish. Just dipping some bread in them is also good!

You’ll need a pressure cooker, blender, and a frying pan. I use an Instant Pot Duo (6 quart) to make my beans, but you can also use a regular pressure cooker as well.

To me the signature ingredient in this is Worcestershire sauce. If you find yourself unwilling to make all these things at once you can also make the black beans first, put them away and then bring them back out to make the refried beans (you can even freeze them for long-term usage).

Make sure to keep a 3-1 ratio on the black beans and water so you have enough broth to make the refried beans.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of black beans
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 whole onion
  • 1/4 of a green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves – whole
  • 1 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Sazon (use your own mix or buy it premade)
  • Sugar (1 pinch)
  • Garlic Salt (approx. 6 shakes)
  • 2 tbsp. Sofrito
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. of cooking oil (I use Grapeseed Oil)

Make the black beans:

  1. Put washed black beans, water, 1/2 of an onion cut up, 1 tbsp. of olive oil, 1/4 of a green bell pepper, and 2 cloves of garlic in a pressure cooker.
  2. Set to pressure cook for 30 minutes if using an Instant Pot (set to sealing) or if using a regular pressure cooker put on the stovetop. Quick pressure release when finished on Instant Pot.
  3. Throw away the garlic cloves.
  4. Now set your Instant Pot to Saute Mode and cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes until the beans thicken (if using a regular pressure cooker cook on stovetop). Add Sazon, Cumin (2 shakes), Sugar (1 pinch), Garlic Salt (6 shakes), 2 tbsp. of sofrito, salt to taste as you cook the beans. Feel free to adjust the other ingredients as you taste.
  5. Once the beans have thickened turn off and prepare to blend.
  6. Remove beans and liquid and separate (do not throw out the bean broth).

Make the refried beans mix:

  1. Put beans in a blender with 1/4 of an onion.
  2. Pour bean liquid up to where the beans are – do not pour over it. The mixture should be mostly beans.
  3. Blend beans and onion together until mixture softens. You can pulse the beans if you want to maintain some of the beans in the mixture.
  4. Put aside and prepare stovetop.

Make your refried beans:

  1. Add 2 tbsp. of cooking oil (I used grapeseed oil) to your frying pan and 1/4 of an onion cut up. Cook until onions infuse with the oil. You can either take out the onions here or leave them in – the choice is yours. I leave mine in.
  2. Add refried beans mix into the frying pan. Cook on low to medium heat. Add Worcestershire sauce (about 6 shakes) to the beans. You can add more to your liking. Taste to see if any extra salt is needed and add if so.
  3. Cook until your refried beans thicken.
  4. Enjoy!

You can add toppings like queso fresco on top, sour cream, or crema. Once we make a batch we normally refrigerate and use these over and over with different dishes. They also go really great in quesadillas! Hope you like them as much as I do!

Mom's Black Refried Beans

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Rating: ★★★★★
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Refried black beans that go great with breakfast, lunch, or dinner.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups of black beans
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 whole onion
  • 1/4 of a green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves – whole
  • 1 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Sazon (use your own mix or buy it premade)
  • Sugar (1 pinch)
  • Garlic Salt (approx. 6 shakes)
  • 2 tbsp. Sofrito
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. of cooking oil (I use Grapeseed Oil)

Directions

  1. Put washed black beans, water, 1/2 of an onion cut up, 1 tbsp. of olive oil, 1/4 of a green bell pepper, and 2 cloves of garlic in a pressure cooker.
  2. Set to pressure cook for 30 minutes if using an Instant Pot (set to sealing) or if using a regular pressure cooker put on the stovetop. Quick Pressure Release on Instant Pot when finished.
  3. Throw away the garlic cloves.
  4. Now set your Instant Pot to Saute Mode and cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes until the beans thicken (if using a regular pressure cooker cook on stovetop). Add Sazon, Cumin (2 shakes), Sugar (1 pinch), Garlic Salt (6 shakes), 2 tbsp. of sofrito, salt to taste as you cook the beans. Feel free to adjust the other ingredients as you taste.
  5. Once the beans have thickened turn off and prepare to blend and put away excess beans.
  6. Remove beans and liquid and separate (do not throw out the bean broth).
  7. Put beans in a blender with 1/4 of an onion.
  8. Pour bean liquid up to where the beans are – do not pour over it. The mixture should be mostly beans.
  9. Blend beans and onion together until mixture softens. You can pulse the beans if you want to maintain some of the beans in the mixture.
  10. Put aside and prepare stovetop to make refried beans.
  11. Add 2 tbsp. of cooking oil (I used Grapeseed oil) to your frying pan and 1/4 of an onion cut up. Cook until onions infuse with the oil. You can either take out the onions here or leave them in – the choice is yours. I leave mine in.
  12. Add refried beans mix into the frying pan. Cook on low to medium heat. Add Worcestershire sauce (about 6 shakes) to the beans. You can add more to your liking. Taste to see if any extra salt is needed and add if so.
  13. Cook until your refried beans thicken.
  14. Enjoy!

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Goya Foods CEO says USA “blessed” with President Donald Trump and #BoycottGoya trends

2020 is filled with twists and turns. #GoyaBoycott and Goya are trending right now after the CEO of Goya Foods praised Trump at the White House and said we’re “blessed to have a leader” like Trump.

There’s a large sense of irony to Goya Foods which primarily sells to Latinx audiences joining forces with President Trump just as the President is caught in numerous scandals including rising Coronavirus cases, preparing a new lawsuit to kill DACA, separating children from their parents at the border, allegations of supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin despite bounties on American soldiers, an investigation by SDNY for tax fraud and evasion, among other things.

Let’s not forget that time that Donald Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans as thousands of them died from Hurricane Irma and Maria and then left the island in the dark.

Twitter immediately responded and began to trend nationwide.

There’s never a dull day on Twitter.

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Do This 2020: Register to VOTE

Many people have more time nowadays than they simply know what to do with. There is something really important that YOU can do today though. Register to VOTE.

It’s easy just go to www.vote.gov to find out the correct information for your home state. Each state has different deadlines to register. For those in Florida you can simply go to registertovoteflorida.gov to register.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.

2020-11-03T00:00:00

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Election Day

If you have already registered, you can check your registration status to make sure your information is correct before Election Day approaches.

Did you already register to vote? GOOD. Register a friend or family member. All you have to do is send them them the link to register to vote. It’s as simple as sending them the link http://www.vote.gov. Registering someone to vote could make every bit of difference in our future.

No matter your party affiliation, everyone should make their voices heard this November. It is your civic duty.

I know it’s hard to think about things like voting with all the things happening nowadays, but voting is vital to our future and to our democracy. Make a difference.

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Pro tip: Do not threaten struggling small businesses with ADA lawsuits you jerks

At the end of an uninteresting 4th of July weekend, I was scrolling on Instagram as I heated up some leftovers and read a post from The Lab Coffee in North Hyde Park that infuriated me.

A customer told them they will be hearing from the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and City of Tampa for refusing them service without a mask.

During a time when Tampa Bay is ranked 3rd in the nation for growing Coronavirus cases with over 19,000 locally and growing, the least thing you can do as a decent human being is wear a mask.

If you’re unable to wear a mask for some reason, you should order delivery or make your own food at home.

What you should not do is harass a local business that has been through one of the biggest interruptions of our time with your pompous attitude that literally nobody cares about and threaten them with a lawsuit.

A friend of mine who owns a local salon told me she encountered a similar situation and had to involve lawyers. What she found out is that customers can be turned away because it is a violation of OSHA for workers to be put at risk with the Coronavirus which is even worse for employers.

Other lawsuits are underway around the country including 32 lawsuits against Giant Eagle supermarket in Texas for requiring masks and several lawsuits around Florida to drop mask mandates and ordinances all together.

Folks. A mask is NOT a political statement. Masks are about saving lives.

It is proven that masks can help save lives and the refusal of customers and especially Floridians to take action to protect their fellow Americans is exactly why hospitalizations are on the upswing and cases are out of control. Florida added nearly 30,000 cases in one weekend.

If we do not stop the spread eventually Florida will be forced into shutdown like Arizona and Texas…then businesses will be forced closed again and millions of people will lose their jobs and livelihoods again. Is that what you want?

Be responsible. Wear a mask. Don’t torture others because you don’t want to be considerate and stop being a jerk.

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List: Restaurants and bars confirming Coronavirus cases in Tampa Bay

All of the sudden there seems to be a large number of restaurants and bars in Tampa Bay reporting cases of Coronavirus among their staff members. Some are closing and some are not.

This is occurring at the same time as Florida coronavirus cases are spiking and fears of a shutdown are coming back into play. Governor DeSantis has swore there will be no shutdowns and this is the “new normal”.

Hillsborough County and Pinellas County leaders seem to be racing to come up with a plan to help slow down the rise in cases to prevent an issue later in hospitals. Mayor Kriseman announced a mask order today for employees of St. Pete businesses and he said a local order for the public is in the works.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

The Galley DTSP – 6/12

The Avenue DTSP and Park & Rec – 6/13

In The Loop Brewing – 6/13

Jannus Live – 6/16

Meat Market South Tampa – 06/16 (case discovered June 8)

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What I’m Reading Food Media – June 16th

The food media world has been rocked by an earthquake this year. First COVID-19 which threatens all industries, then the death of George Floyd and allegations of racism have led to major shakeups and discussions between the media and public.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

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NEWS: COVID-19 cases temporarily close St. Pete bars

In a normal society, the government would inform citizens when outbreaks of Coronavirus (COVID-19) are happening at businesses nearby.

However, we live in Florida where the Governor has actually invited a national convention to our state in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 116,000 Americans so far. Where the health department fired a data scientist because she refused to manipulate data to fit his opening criteria.

In the middle of the night, the Tampa Bay Times broke a story about COVID-19 cases at The Galley, Park & Rec St. Pete, and The Avenue in Downtown St. Petersburg. All the bars have closed temporarily due to staff members testing positive to COVID-19.

No doubt if you have been eating or drinking there you should be getting tested yourself to make sure you don’t have COVID-19. We were warned by scientists that restaurants and bars were not safe due to the ease in which spread can occur indoors with people and laughing inside paired with air-conditioning units.

Bars and restaurants should be more vigilant about testing staff and customers, closing for 2 weeks or even a few days is detrimental to a business right now. Obviously proper mitigation efforts are not being done. This will keep happening.

In one of my recent visits to pickup food at restaurants for curbside, I have noticed very few of them are observing capacity limits and customers are swarming together in clusters and groups. Parking lots filled. Bars full. This is a recipe for disaster.

Be smart. Wear your masks. Stay home. This is far from over.