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”.
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.
There’s an exciting new concept coming Friday, June 12th, 2020 to the Hall on Franklin food hall called Chef & The Baker from Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro. I had a chance to ask them a few questions about this new initiative and how things have changed since the pandemic began.
CARLOS EATS:First off – How have you guys been getting by during the pandemic?
Chef Rosana: We pivoted early on in the pandemic through R2 Provisions, our ghost kitchen in Pinellas Park, to do delivery of products, Xilo Mexican favorite food items, bakery items like bread, and provisions like eggs, flour, sugar, yeast, and toilet paper. The response was phenomenal and we are so grateful that Tampa embraced the concept, no questions asked.
Chef Ricardo: We continue to service via delivery from R2 Provisions. Customers can order through r2xilokofe.square.site.
CARLOS EATS: Chef & The Baker is a highly anticipated project considering your past with Piquant. How will this project be different?
Chef Rosana: The recipes have been tweaked and perfected. Chef Ricardo, over the past couple of years has really honed in on his talent and craft to become an even better baker.
Chef Ricardo: We will have artisan breads, more viennoiseries (pastries), and a higher quality of patisserie items (cakes and European tortes).
CARLOS EATS: Who are some people you look up to in the baking world and is there any pastry or bakery chefs who inspire you? What are your favorite bakeries around the world?
Chef Rosana and Ricardo: Belinda from B Patisserie in San Francisco, Eric Kayser from Maison Kayser in NYC & Paris; Antonio Bachour from Bachour Miami; and the quintessential Francois Payard from around the world. However, there are a lot of up and coming pastry superstars that we are always following and trying to learn from like Johan Martin.
CARLOS EATS: When it comes to ingredients – What makes a quality baked good different? Does water make a difference?
Chef Rosana and Ricardo: Best quality of ingredients is crucial and yes – water quality makes a huge difference. There are some things we have little control of – but buying the best ingredients is something we can control, especially when it comes to baking ingredients. We buy flours that are unbromated, we use cage-free eggs for baking applications, all-natural products, European chocolates, filtered water, and butter with a higher fat content. It all makes a difference in the quality of the product you bake. We never cut corners, you can taste the quality.
CARLOS EATS:Food enthusiasts have been making their own sourdough starters at home during the pandemic as people tried to find a way to get through being home constantly and still enjoy the things they love. What trends do you see emerging in the baking world and how will it change in the future?
Chef Rosana and Ricardo: More at home baking for sure! Our plan is to launch a virtual cooking kitchen class in which we are able to share our knowledge with our audience on a digital, but interactive format. I think the love for the art of baking is going nowhere, on the contrary its getting better and better.
CARLOS EATS:Industry experts say the pandemic has changed how goods are bought and prices of food seems to be going up. How are you dealing with that?
Chef Rosana: We are sticking to our prices as much as we can, and if we can’t do that – we try to minimize the impact by increasing the price by 25 or 50 cents. Our margins are taking a hit and are reduced, but at the end of the day we want to be conscious of how people spend their money. We don’t want or need to abuse.
CARLOS EATS: Which menu item would you say is the most complex or time-consuming dish you make? Can you tell us more about it?
Chef Rosana: Anything croissant, which is easily a 72+ hour process, but we love it and our guests love anything croissant that we do. My favorite item is the Kouign Amanns.
Chef Ricardo: That is how I make the croissants, not everyone follows that. It creates better flavors as the dough ferments slowly. My favorite item is The Morning Buns (citrus crispy laminated dough) is my favorite item on our menu.
CARLOS EATS: What made you both fall in love with baking?
Chef Rosana: I fell in love for baking because of Ricardo. Every day I see him bake I am in awe of him!
Chef Ricardo: I fell in love with baking when my Mom AKA Chef Cookie, would teach me how to bake things since I was 9 years old. Later, Chef Rudy from Austria took me under his wing and taught me everything European pastries. The right way and the best way!
Don’t forget to check out Chef & the Baker when it opens on Friday, June 12th at 11AM at the Hall on Franklin at 1701 North Franklin Street Tampa, Florida, 33602.
This week there were a number of stories happening around Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd and in Tampa’s restaurant restaurant community it was no different.
A number of restaurants were navigating how to address the rising movement and protests or how to deal with the fallout of communicating about it to their customers.
The week began with a post from Lanfranco Pescante of Nocturnal Hospitality Group. A message posted online by him said “shoot them all” and drew condemnation from the local community including black leaders, bloggers, and others, led to Franco’s resignation, brought 500 protesters to Downtown Tampa at Franklin Manor, and eventually ended up leading to Celebrity Chef Fabio Viviani cutting ties with all associated restaurants from the group including many upcoming concepts around the Tampa Bay area.
This fiasco ended with the indefinite closing of all properties including Franklin Manor, Osteria Tampa, Mole y Abuela, and upcoming concepts like Shibui and La Pergola. News reports have shown that Franco is now under FBI and state investigation. Investors and employees found themselves caught in a firestorm that led to almost 200+ people losing their jobs after months of COVID-19 lockdowns.
A former investor shares this:
Next, Oxford Exchange – a popular South Tampa eatery worth millions decided to wade into the debate happening and posted that they support all lives and African-Americans, but refused to say that “Black Lives Matter” which led to people fighting in their comments until eventually the brand relented and put #blacklivesmatter into the description.
It’s important to know that when your brand has decided to take a stand on an issue, you must think about the cause you are supporting. Black Lives Matter is an issue where you must actually say it to be effective and show your solidarity.
The important thing about politics is always that if you don’t want to get involved, simply say nothing at all.
After that, popular eatery Datz in South Tampa also found themselves in a social media controversy after an employee put up Black Lives Matter on their famous signboard without talking to the owners of the business.
This led to confusion and allegations and in the end the owners decided to go forward and post it on their page and explained that they felt it was “distasteful” for their employee to add the words without thinking about how it would be displayed first since the original sign was advertising breakfast.
Finally – an employee at Seminole Heights General Storetold Creative Loafing that they were fired because of posts they made online supporting Black Lives Matter.
Last night the nation witnessed another night of protests across the country after the death of George Floyd and many of them became violent in the evening.
Although Tampa saw a peaceful protest in the daytime with the Mayor of Tampa Jane Castor and Chief of Police Brian Dugan marching with protesters, as the evening approached the protests became more intense and led to several cases of looting including a burning of a Mobil gas station and then a fire at Champ’s across the street from the University Mall.
Saigon Bay is a local Vietnamese restaurant that has been a neighborhood eatery for decades and it’s location next to Champ’s led to damage of their building. University of South Florida students and staff, as well as those from the area know it well as a great place to enjoy a bowl of pho.
“As you may know Tampa got out of hand last night. My parents owned and built this restaurant from the ground up ever since I was born. We sold it a few years back to some wonderful owners that took the restaurant to another level. I’m incredibly heartbroken about the events that have occurred especially to something so near and dear to my family’s hearts, but please please everyone be empathetic towards one another.
In the video of George Floyd’s death, there was a man of Asian decent that was in the wrong and it reminded me how different it is for our race. Yes, we still deal with racism. However police brutality is something our race does not have to deal with. I’ve seen with my own eyes how my African American friends get treated differently than me even though I am a minority just like them.
Whenever I hear “All Lives Matter,” it’s total bulls***. At the end of the day, we all have to be kind towards one another. Love really does cure all. As for Saigon Bay, I am communicating with the owners to see how we can help as a community to help put back their business that they put their blood, sweat and tears into. #blacklivesmatter#bekind“
The first major restaurant industry casualty is Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes, many more are expected in the future as the restaurant industry is impacted by COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times posted a full story this evening about the closure. The chain has been plagued with troubled finances for years.
Governor Ron DeSantis will allow restaurants in Florida to re-open dining rooms on Monday, May 4th, 2020 at 25% their usual capacity and unlimited capacity on patios as long as “social distancing” is maintained.
Over 20 Tampa Bay restaurants have decided not to re-open their dining rooms on May 4th. Most have said that they want to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers and will continue takeout or delivery if currently operational. Some are still working on a plan on how exactly to proceed.
Florida currently has 36,078 Coronavirus cases and 1,379 Floridians have died so far. Over 600 cases were added in the last 24 hours and several experts have said that Florida does not have proper testing in place to stop a new outbreak of the virus in the state.
Here are statements from some of the restaurants who will not be opening their dining rooms on May 4th:
Siam Thai Garden: The St. Petersburg restaurant located at 3125 Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Street North posted on Facebook: “We believe things are too unpredictable right now to safely open for everyone, and people should come before profit. As a Thai saying goes, “To maintain your health is a fortune in itself.” They will continue to offer takeout and delivery. Find them at siamgardenthai.com.
Bento Restaurant Group: This large restaurant group shared to their fans “As you may know, the mandatory closure of all dining rooms will be lifted in several counties across Florida as of this Monday, May 4th. The health and well-being of our team, guests, and community are still our top priority, so we have made the decision to keep our dining rooms temporarily closed. We will continue to offer takeout and delivery until we feel it’s safe to reopen our dining rooms.” eatatbento.com
Columbia Restaurant Group: Ulele and Columbia restaurants have remained closed during the pandemic although Goody Goody Burger re-opened for takeout recently in South Tampa. Their owners shared, “While we’re now allowed to reopen, we will decide what that means for each of our restaurants. It might mean takeout or outside seating at some of our locations, but it’s too soon to know what or when (except for Goody Goody, which began takeout only on May 1). Whatever happens will be gradual, and safe for our guests and staff. We’re also watching other states very carefully to see what happens with restaurants there.” ulele.comcolumbiarestaurant.com goodygoodyburgers.com
Cassis: The popular Downtown St. Pete restaurant and bakery posted that they will remain closed for now. Cassis posted “As of now, we are currently keeping the doors to our restaurant and bakery closed. We miss all of you so much and want our next evening together to be one that is safe and celebratory.” cassisstpete.com
Pia’s Trattoria: “After much pondering we decided NOT to open this coming week for sit down service. As much as we would like to open our doors again, we don’t feel ready yet to welcome you. To make it a really safe operation for everyone involved and still provide an enjoyable experience we have to take many steps and think ahead. Employee training and repositioning, facility set up, special sanitary stations and -tools, strict guidelines, are just some of them. To bring our employees out of unemployment and you into our dining areas we need to get it all right, NO mistakes can be made. We are working hard on it, please be patient and stay tuned! ❤️. We will keep going with curbside service while we working on these necessary upgrades. Thank you all for your understanding!” piastrattoria.com.
Jesse’s Steak and Seafood: This Brandon eatery shares “Although restaurants have been cleared to open at twenty-five percent capacity beginning May 4th, our dining room will remain closed until Governor DeSantis clears businesses for Phase 2. We have made this decision based upon both economical and safety concerns. We will however continue our curbside pickup and delivery, which is available through MobileMeals. We are also taking this opportunity to do some remodeling and necessary maintenance. We appreciate all of the continued support we have received from our community of loyal customers and look forward to seeing all of you in our dining room again soon!” jessessteakandseafood.com
Soho Sushi + Yoko’s Classic Japanese Cuisine: The two popular South Tampa eateries posted similar messages: “While we are excited the Governor has initiated Phase One (which includes the ability of restaurants to operate at 25% capacity), we have made the very difficult and cautious decision to keep our dining room closed for now. In the meantime, we can continue to offer 20% off your curbside carry out. To place your order you can call, order online or use new SoHo Sushi mobile app. In addition, we’ll continue our delivery services through Uber Eats. You health and safety are our priority. We are completely overwhelmed by your support during this extraordinary time. Our hearts are full. We look forward to having you join us in our dining room soon.” sohosushi.comyokostampa.com
Red Mesa Restaurant: I Love The Burg reports this statement “Red Mesa Restaurant Group will remain take out and carry out only until we feel it is safe to resume normal business operations,” said Tony Pullaro, Marketing Director. redmesarestaurant.com.
Ichicoro Ramen: “In consideration of our team and safety, our Seminole Heights dining room will temporarily remain closed as we continue to monitor the situation. We are reviewing the changing restrictions and guidelines to inform all our decisions, making sure we serve you the absolute best way possible. We truly appreciate all the support and love we have received and will continue to do our best to support you back. We love you all #ramenarmy. Be safe. Be well. Above all remember, #weramenthistogether“. ichicoro.com
Japanese Kitchen Dosunco: “For your safety and ours, we will not be open for dine-in. However, we will continue making takeout orders! Stay Safe Tampa Bay!” facebook.com/DOSUNCOTAMPA
Sushi Ninja Tampa: This Korean and Japanese concept shared: “Both locations’ dining rooms will continue to remain closed until we are comfortable and confident that our staff, their families, and our community will be safe and healthy. We will continue to operate curb-side pick up for our customers.” Visit them online at sushininjafl.com.
Cuenelli’s Peruvian Rotisserie and Grill: “Dear customers are a business, Cuenelli’s has decided to maintain our current operations and we are limiting ourselves to carry outs & to-go’s only until further notice. We value your business and we are eagerly working on a plan to return to our full operations soon.”
Shuffle Tampa: “We are on this call and will be letting everyone know soon what our plan will be. We will NOT be opening to the public this week. Our takeout for next week will be Tuesday and Friday for now. Please maintain social distancing and stop hugging us. ❤️💙💛💚💜”. shuffletampa.com
Bake’n Babes: This bakery from Tampa Heights will not be opening to the public at this time according to Owner Julie Curry. They will be doing delivery with Uber Eats and contactless pickup on Saturdays. bakenbabes.com
King State: “As we head into this week, our dining room will remain closed for the time being. Lots of unknowns, lots of differing opinions, so we are going to take a little more time and make sure when we come back, it makes sense for our guests and everyone involved. We’re still crushing online & call ahead orders! As always, thanks for your support & we’re stoked to see you all inside whenever that may be! We’ll keep you posted! ONE LUV. YUH.” king-state.com
Hawker’s St. Pete: “While we would absolutely love to break bread (er, Roti) with you guys while sitting around a Hawkers table catching up on great conversation, we have to make sure we are putting the safety of our team members and our guests first and foremost. We are already taking incredibly extensive measures to ensure the safety of all takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery orders, but we also recognize that there are numerous additional steps that must be taken, beyond what has been outlined by elected officials, to ensure the safest possible dine-in atmosphere for our team and our guests. We simply need more time to implement these dine-in safety measures, while also giving our team enough notice to make the necessary arrangements for their families as they prepare for a safe and steady reopening.” eathawkers.com
Russo’s NY Pizzeria – Clearwater: “We’re hopeful and excited that Florida is slowly reopening. Restrictions for restaurants have begun to loosen but we have decided we will not open our dining room at this point for the new 25% capacity limit. We have been extremely fortunate to safely serve you through takeout, curbside pickup, free delivery and delivery via third party. We’ll continue to focus on operating safely in this fashion while we take some steps to get ready to open our patio and dining room. Click the link to see all our current specials and call us at 727-648-4304 to order this weekend. Thank you so much for your support.” nypizzeria.com/clearwater/
Casita Taqueria: “While we’re beyond excited we’re also cautious. We have decided to keep our inside dining closed until we reach Phase 2. Casita will continue with curbside pick-up and online ordering. Our locations will proceed with outside patio dining and have spaced those tables accordingly per the CDC guidelines. We want to make sure your family is protected as well as our employees.” casitatacos.com
Casa Tina: The popular Mexican eatery will not be open for Cinco de Mayo, but is doing a virtual Cinco de Mayo that is currently sold out. “We need to slowly work our way back to serving in the safest most responsible way that we can..I don’t like the uncertainty, I’d rather be cautious and safe. We’ve been so blessed to have our staff that we have had for many years…We want to see how it goes. We want to be cautious. We need to tread very carefully. It is our life. 28 years. We live for our business.”. casatinas.com
Pacific Counter: “We have decided to stay the course with Takeout and Delivery for the time being, but will be setting up outdoor tables for guests to dine at if they’d like to remain on premise” from I Love The Burg. pacificcounter.com
Coppertail Brewing Co.: “We are very eager to open these doors back up but at this time we are going to take it slow. While we could operate at a limited capacity, we will not be opening up for onsite food or beer consumption. Take out and to-go sales will continue until we feel like we can responsibly have groups in our establishment. All of this is to keep our staff and guests safe in a still uncertain time. We will keep everyone updated as we learn more and feel we are making the right decision. We miss you all, appreciate your continued support and truly can’t wait to have everyone back.” coppertailbrewing.com
Ella’s: “The future is uncertain, and although we can’t wait to be able to see and serve you again, we feel that the today’s opening of Florida restaurants is a bit too soon for us here at Ella’s. We will continue to be here for all your take out needs and are working on a safe and sustainable plan to ensure the safety of our guests and our staff. Please stay tuned!”ellasfolkartcafe.com
Rooster & The Till: “As the state works to open up slowly, we are not opening up our dining room just yet. We’ll continue to offer Rooster Re-Dux togo options either by calling in, or Uber Eats until we announce otherwise. Please continue to support and order togo food, and our Sunday Supper Club meals – We appreciate your support, and thank you for ordering with us. This is a fluid situation and we’re going to do what is the best and safest option for our guests and employees.” roosterandthetill.com
It is well-known that Governor DeSantis is racing towards a plan to re-open Florida in the near future. Task force members have met in recent days to discuss plans. However, one grilled cheese restaurant in Orlando area jumped the gun (Florida proverb) though and announced recently on their Facebook page “we are over this” and said they plan to open their restaurant dining room on May 1st.
What ensued afterwards was a preview for what will happen when Florida forces itself back open. Polls today show that over 70% of Floridians support social distancing rules and the current stay-at-home orders, showing that those protestors appearing on television are nothing more than an astroturf campaign funded by political groups and do not represent any major group.
One comment read “You’re over this? My grandma f*cking died because of this so I’m sorry for inconveniencing you by trying to avoid more unnecessary deaths”.
Another one said, “Guess which cheese-themed restaurant we’re all gonna be going to from now on??? Idk, but NACHO RESTAURANT”.
Some threatened to report the business to the state and also dug up their inspection reports with one person commenting, “Would you like to comment on your 14 restaurant inspection violations on March 29, 2019? Or most recently the 5 violations on November 6, 2019? Surely you’re prepared to serve food and dine in guests in the most pristine restaurant available in a post-pandemic world, right??”.
The restaurant responded to customers and actively attacked them back in what can only be described as a PR nightmare that certainly is a warning sign for other businesses out there.
The Getaway in neighboring Tampa Bay also recently had major issues when the owner recorded herself discussing employee pay and caused an uproar that led to alleged death threats and a temporary closure.
33 & Melt has since been deleted their initial post as as well as an apology that went south.
Users flooded the restaurants Facebook page and left 1-star reviews across the internet. People tagged the media and attempted to voice their concerns and anger.
Here’s the thing: most people understand that small businesses are hurting, people are reading the news and doing their best to order take-out and delivery during this time despite salary cuts, layoffs, and all around economic depression.
At the same time, the public is very concerned about their safety and the safety of employees at businesses, who are are increasingly being hospitalized and dying across the nation in essential businesses from grocery stores to meat packing facilities.
Over 40% of Americans now personally know someone who has become sick or died from COVID-19. Over 45,000 Americans have died in 2 months and thousands are currently dying every day.
The public feels a general anxiety about opening and the best way to get their support is to gradually win it over and consider all parties involved as you make announcements. Taking too harsh of a tone invites pushback and only will lead to harm to your business.
With sagging profits already an issue, the last thing any business can afford right now is a boycott (ask Shake Shack).
If you plan to re-open, make sure you communicate how you’re going to do that in phases (when the time is right), how you will work to protect your employees and customers, and how you most importantly listen to the advice of professionals. Partner with your local officials, you will need it.
If your business is really struggling, make sure to communicate that. Ask for help. The public is willing to try and support you, but first you have to respect them as well.
One of the things I have noticed the most writing about food over the last 10 years is that businesses never communicate that they are dying until it is too late. Ask for help. Be real with your supporters.
The reason why the task force exists at all is because if businesses plan together, they will have more support for re-opening in the future. If large corporations feel like they need to win over consumer sentiment and safety, there is no reason that a small business won’t find itself in the same dilemma.
Situations like these harm the ability of all businesses to move forward in the future with plans to restore consumer confidence. The reality as well is that the Florida public does not currently support re-opening and that will play a big role in how businesses are able to move forward.
A number of CEOs and advocates for industry players spent time talking about their recommendations for Florida to re-open for business. One thing most of them left out was the vital importance of widespread testing and how Florida still is not at a stage where opening is safe for the public.
Most speakers on the call brought up the fact that Florida’s small businesses in the restaurant industry may not survive if they do not re-open in the next month or so.
There was plenty of commonalities between speakers with most of them stressing consumer sentiment and employee safety. The executives seemed divided on how exactly that could be achieved, but they all agreed if they cannot achieve those basic tenets that it will be dangerous for them to re-open.
Things mentioned included masks, temperature checks, phases of social distancing, bacterial cleanings of hotel rooms, PPE, paid sick leave, among other things. Stakeholders mentioned that without these things employees would not feel a desire to return to their jobs and that the public would be uneasy to come back.Subscribe
Notably, these materials are barely available at the moment for our healthcare workers who are currently in hospitals being forced to re-wear and limit masks and there is a nationwide PPE shortage. Different hospitals seem to have different supply access, although doctors and nurses continue to protest a lack of supplies as recently as today.
These materials also seem to be missing in our nursing homes which are experiencing spikes of coronavirus outbreaks across the state with over 300 ALF facilities currently dealing with positive coronavirus cases impacting patients and employees.
Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, discussed how his company had dealt with outbreaks of COVID-19 at other locations around the country and world with shutdowns and cleanings to try and raise consumer sentiment and that his company has spent a heavy amount of marketing capital to reassure customers that takeout and delivery are safe. One thing I noticed was that the steps he mentioned his company takes are recommended to franchisees, but not necessarily required or forced on them.
One of the main issues with choosing to re-open restaurants is that COVID-19 can be spread through droplets and even through breathing from those infected with the virus, a study from Iceland says an estimated 50% of carriers are asymptomatic, therefore it would be hard to know who actually has the virus without more intensive testing. Another study recently reports that 9 people became infected when sitting next to a COVID-19 carrier in a restaurant.
It would be very difficult to ensure that COVID-19 could not be spread in a dining room to employees and other guests. One of the solutions that was proposed was to slowly lift social distancing in phases as Florida monitors the virus.
The amount of oversight to enforce any of these things sounds like it would be quite a burden for the state to actually implement and would most likely leave the burden on businesses themselves.
The task force lacks any doctors to recommend how to proceed, which is remarkable considering that Florida continues to have hundreds of hospitalizations and dozens of deaths nearly every day so far. Without any doctors on the task force, it seems we are forced to trust business professionals whose first priority seems to be sagging profits and a dire need to restart.
During the phone call, bed tax and sales tax revenue were brought up over and over again as hotel owners and restaurant groups reminded listeners that the state funds rely on taxes from their industry to function.
Hotel CEOs called for beaches to be opened again as amenities so that “guests can have something to do” and announced advanced talks with local officials around the state to have beaches open as soon as May 15th or earlier, according to Cody Kahn, Holiday Inn Resort Owner. The frustration with the current social distancing efforts was noticeable in the tone that Kahn displayed on the phone call.
Kahn brazenly attacked “fake news” and “CNN” media for their role in the current crisis and commended President Trump for doing a great job, despite over 45,000 Americans deaths in the last two months and climbing. The comments did not seem constructive to the goals of the task force and were aired on live television and throughout Facebook and social media websites.
One of the most bizarre parts of the phone call was when Visit Florida President and CEO, Dana Young, called for a marketing plan that would pitch Floridians to take a vacation within the state and support local businesses since the state cannot currently rely on international travelers to fuel Florida’s tourism industry as COVID-19 continues to spread.
This plan seemed tone-deaf and completely disconnected from a world where hundreds of thousands of Floridians are waiting for their unemployment checks to be processed after weeks of issues online and can barely eat at the moment. Will those jobs that were lost magically come back when Florida re-opens as the rest of the nation battles COVID-19? That remains to be seen.
Perhaps a more prudent plan would be to defund Visit Florida and to hand the taxpayer money back to citizens who desperately need money to survive right now? That’s my thought anyway.
Walter Carpenter, NFIB Florida Leadership Council Chairman, brought up the federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans and said they will not be a panacea for small businesses and that ultimately re-opening is the only choice for small businesses.
PPP loans recently made headlines when they were discovered to be misused this past week and brought into the hands of 71 publicly traded corporations including Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack, who returned the loan after fierce criticism that continues for Ruth. The so-called small business fund was quickly exhausted and although Congress has passed an additional package, they did not close the loophole that will allow corporations to swallow the funds. Most experts say the new funds will only last 72 hours when they are released to banks.
Ultimately, there is no perfect solution to the current crisis Florida faces and coronavirus continues to spread across the state as businesses feel continued pressure to pay rent and employees without aid.
Opening too soon could have dire consequences. If the deaths rise too fast and become a public health emergency as many epidemiologists are currently warning, Florida could be forced to close again and that may tarnish consumer sentiment in the long-term for these businesses that are already struggling to survive.
Several restaurants in Georgia announced today that they will not re-open despite Governor Kemp declaring that all restaurants will begin to re-open on Monday, as he lifts the stay-at-home order in his state. Many restaurants voiced concern for their employees health and their customers, customers also rallied to punish businesses who put their employees health in danger.
This balance will be very important for Florida to consider as Governor DeSantis pushes for the state to re-open and President Trump calls for an end to stay-at-home orders. We could have a bigger crisis on our hands with a false start and most businesses seem to be leery of that potential that could be on the horizon soon.
Public safety needs to be the top priority. I believe the working group should seek more input from doctors and ground their approach in science or they may lose consumer sentiment and employees in the long-term as well as tarnish their brands and put Florida into a major crisis. The state should seek more relief for more businesses as soon as possible, they will need it.
People don’t need to “seem comfortable” they need to actually be safe.