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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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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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Guide: Restaurant Reservation Platforms during COVID-19

As several restaurants start to plan their reopening strategies during COVID-19, many restaurateurs may be interested in signing up for a restaurant reservation platform to plan out and control dining crowds, as well as to help with other priorities such as take-out.

I looked into a few platforms and found some useful information about what platforms are doing to help and how owners can take advantage of this as they manage Coronavirus.

  1. OpenTable: Arguably one of the most popular online reservation platforms is OpenTable. For years they have dominated the space, but also have been quite expensive for restaurateurs to use – which has led to their clientele being mostly high-end restaurants and diners. OpenTable is waiving subscription fees through the end of 2020 and cover fees through September 30th, 2020 as well as a 50% cover fee discount through the end of 2020 for restaurants who sign up for their “Open Door” pricing program. Standard subscription and cover fee pricing will be reintroduced in 2021. The large customer base that OpenTable has could be a draw for restaurateurs. Make sure to read the fine print though as always.
  2. Resy: One of OpenTable’s big competitors, Resy, is also offering no fees through the rest of 2020 for restaurants. It applies to both existing and new restaurant partners. They have added new features like a Mobile Waitlist, Automated Capacity Monitor, and Takeout and Contactless pickup are also in the works.
  3. Tock: Tock is a reservation and takeout/delivery platform that is ran by Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Several of the people running and advising the platform are hospitality industry affiliated names. Many of the members of Tock seem to be smaller, local restaurants. Fees start at $199 a month, Tock has waived fees through the end of May for restaurants.
  4. Yelp Reservations: One of the more expensive options has a flat rate of $249 a month, but is integrated with Yelp which is one of the busiest websites online for restaurants. There are no cover fees, setup fees, or web access fees added on for monthly service. Yelp offers table management and waitlist management. Yelp is offering 3 months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist through the end of May 2020 as part of their COVID-19 relief. Call (844) 889-1617 to sign up.
  5. Eat App: This platform has some features in place to help restaurants navigating COVID-19 including switching to reservations only, the ability to change floor plans, configure shifts to automatically restrict covers, manage capacity minute by minute, and waitlists. They also offer phone integrations, custom tags and notes, SMS capabilities, and contact list information as well as other features. Pricing starts at $129 a month which is one of the lowest in the pack.

These are just a few of the tools out there for restaurants looking to get back on their feet during COVID-19. You will also look into your POS system and see if there is features on there for reservations or if it is compatible with these services.

As always, be sure to read the contract terms before proceeding with any deal.

Good luck!

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Why are landlords still raising rent on restaurants during a pandemic?

News has spread that Cafe Ponte in Clearwater is now permanently closed due to COVID-19 and leasing problems. This is the beginning of many stories that will soon be told about failing restaurants in Tampa Bay. Personally I did not dine there, but was constantly told about the place from those who love to eat in Tampa.

The owner told the Tampa Bay Times: “He wanted to increase the rent and we couldn’t come to a fair agreement.” Other projects are in the works, but this spot was running for 18 years and is now closed.

Unfortunately, this is going to be really common as the virus continues to persist.

One of the big reasons is because most restaurants in Tampa Bay are due for leasing renewals or may have recently signed one.

Many of the restaurants in Tampa Bay appeared during the last financial crisis or Great Recession in the early 2010s. Those leases expired in a market where Tampa real estate has swelled and become quite expensive as more people moved to Florida and companies began relocating to the region. It wasn’t as much of a problem until Coronavirus showed up and put ice on tourism in Florida.

This also begs the question, why are landlords still increasing rent in the middle of a pandemic? Who exactly is going to move into these empty units during one of the worst times of uncertainty? It is a problem that is plaguing both businesses and working class people already being squeezed.

Even Starbucks is asking for rent relief after their sales fell by 85% from their landlords. How can small businesses survive like that?

Restaurants have experienced a huge disruption with states closing their businesses for over a month and putting them into minimized operating capacity to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While this is important for public health and needs to be done, the same government who mandates closures should also be working to protect restaurants from rent increases, evictions, and other forces.

There’s a number of tools that can be used to help restaurants that still aren’t being used in Florida or Tampa Bay even get a little bit of help.

Cities around the country are putting caps on delivery fees to help restaurants that have lost much of their dine-in business and are seeing increases in delivery and take-out. Even with restaurants re-opening, studies show that most customers will not be dining in again until a vaccine is hopefully created for COVID-19.

OpenTable data shows that for the most part, dining has yet to recover and has hung stubbornly around -80% or higher for most cities that already opened their doors.

A viral photograph shows how Grubhub and the various delivery platforms actually take in a huge amount of profits from restaurants even during the pandemic as they struggle to survive. Uber Eats takes up to 30% of a delivery commission. Rumor has it that Uber is about to buy Grubhub for $6 billion, which will lower the bargaining power that restaurants will have on fees.

Although PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loans are being heavily floated as a way for restaurants to stay afloat, many owners cried foul after they realized that PPP loans are mostly for payrolls (as the name implied) and most of the money cannot be used towards rent or other costs. This is mostly good for workers which is important, but it will not fundamentally save the restaurants who now have the funds but still have numerous costs to figure out.

If cities and states really want to protect their small businesses and restaurants as they say they do, they need to come up with more tools to help those places stay in business. It’s unfair to ask restaurants simply to shoulder the burden of staying closed during this health emergency and to not offer them tools to survive the pandemic as well.

California has come up with a few interesting things like paying restaurants to help feed the elderly and more things like that might be needed nationwide.

Policymakers need to find ways to provide rent relief for restaurants and to help ease other issues plaguing restaurants now like supply disruptions, spiking food costs, the cost of acquiring PPE, and other issues at play. At the very least, landlords should not be raising rent on restaurants in the middle of a pandemic.

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Coronavirus: Souplantion, Sweet Tomatoes fold under pressure

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.

The reaction on Twitter was filled with mourning:

RIP to unlimited clam chowder.

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Coronavirus: Over 20 restaurants in Tampa Bay will not open dining rooms on May 4th

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.com columbiarestaurant.com goodygoodyburgers.com
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.com yokostampa.com
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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.
  12. 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.”
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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/
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
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Coronavirus: Orlando eatery unleashes PR crisis after saying “we are over this” and opening to angry Floridians

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.

Safety first.

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Coronavirus: Where to buy masks online

In recent weeks the CDC has updated their protocols to recommend that Americans wear masks or face coverings in public. N95 masks are reserved for healthcare workers, but all other masks are encouraged.

The main idea behind this push is to prevent people from spreading droplets of Coronavirus (COVID-19) to other people when they are out shopping and in public.

City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor today announced an initiative with major businesses to get masks for employees and encourage customers to wear masks within Tampa for the health and safety of us all. Stores on the list include Publix, Home Depot, Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and others.

Here are some places where you can get masks:

  • Nextdoor: Several people have started making masks at home for others and have them for sale on the Nextdoor app. This app keeps you updated on what is happening in your specific neighborhood. Prices seem to be reasonable. Make sure you wash or disinfect masks that you buy to avoid any contamination.
  • Etsy: A number of home designers have taken to their sewing machines and are selling masks on Etsy. You will want to aim for 100% cotton masks or those made with quilt material. Prices are all over the place and be sure to clean your mask after your receive it in the mail.
  • Walmart: The most unrealiable of the bunch is Walmart. The megastore has a number of 3rd party sellers on their website selling masks. I bought some a few weeks ago, but they still haven’t shown up. It might require some patience, but it is a resource for getting masks.
  • VIDA: A fashion start-up based in San Francisco is selling $10 protective masks for the public. The price goes down the more masks you order. 10% of the proceeds are donated to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
  • StringKing: This is a big supplier based in Los Angeles that can handle large orders for masks. They make individual re-usable masks for $6 and 50 disposable 3 ply masks for $39.99. There is a wait period for shipments so expect to wait a few weeks before your masks will arrive.

I hope this helps. Stay safe and stay home!