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”.
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.
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.
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
Who is ready for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes at IHOP? Maybe 2020 isn’t all bad after all. Celebrate National Pancake Day on Tuesday, February 25th, 2020 at IHOP locations around the United States from 7AM to 7PM (10PM in select locations).
IHOP is adding a giveaway this year with barcodes at tables that guests can scan for a chance to win up to 250,0000 instant win prizes. Prizes include limited-edition pancake-themed merchandise such as bicycles, scooters, customizable jackets, handmade berets and more. In addition to the “Pancakes for Life” grand prize, ten lucky winners will also score $500 in IHOP gift cards.
Guests are asked to make a donation for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Other Charities on their way out of the restaurant. Since 2006, IHOP has raised more than $30 million for its charity partners.
“The communities where IHOP and our franchisees operate is at the core of everything we do, and National Pancake Day serves as a great example of our commitment to helping the kids and families who are our guests, neighbors, friends and family,” said Stephanie Peterson, Executive Director of Communications.
New World Brewery, a popular live-music spot with great craft beer and food that first opening in 1994 and closed in Ybor City a few years ago, is re-opening on February 12th, 2020 at 6PM with a new location near Sulphur Springs at 810 East Skagway Tampa, Florida 33604.
They will kick off their opening party with all-you-can-eat pizza and two drafts of beer for $35. Tickets are required to attend.
Grubhub, a popular mobile ordering and delivery platform worth at least 5 billion dollars, is in hot water (again) after it was discovered that Grubhub is allegedly listing restaurants on the platform without their permission and offering delivery from Ghost Kitchens that don’t even represent the companies on their website.
Pim Techamuanvivit, owner of Kin Khao in San Francisco, wrote in a Twitter thread this past weekend, that her restaurant has been added to Grubhub and Seamless without her permission or any kind of agreement. She does not offer delivery or take-out, yet orders were fulfilled by another business posing as Kin Khao.
It isn’t the first time something like this happens or accusations are made. It was discovered last year that Grubhub was taking control of business listings through a partnership with platforms like Yelp and putting fake phone numbers on listings.
These numbers led to a Grubhub controlled number that then generated orders and charged restaurants for sending customers that were simply trying to order from the restaurant. Restaurants were shocked when they discovered they were paying Grubhub for a service they never agreed to.
Grubhub went as far as generating fake domains that seemed to be the official website of restaurants with menus that led to Grubhub for business orders. Over 23,000 domains were discovered by journalists at New Food Economy. In a normal world, there would be consequences for these actions.
Grubhub was basically forced by New York City to start changing the policy after threats were made and a class-action lawsuit was started against them by restaurateurs they charged for these “services” that is now asking for 5 million dollars.
Yet this continues:
Of course, this isn’t limited to just New York City or San Francisco. Once this story made its way around the internet business owners in other cities also began also crying foul. The story made it over to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it seems this may be deeply run into the food ecosystem.
Which begs the question, is Grubhub scamming your restaurant business? Is Seamless? It’s probably best to look up your own listings to make sure.
Rumors are swirling online that Grubhub is for-sale. Whether that explains this rampant behavior against restaurants or not, one thing is clear: restaurant owners have a right to control of their businesses and this is wrong plain and simple.
Restaurants have a failure rate of 60% in their first year and 80% in their first five years. Foot traffic is falling and costs are going up. Isn’t it hard enough without someone taking control of your restaurant listings, phone number, and website presence?
The popular Armature Works food hall stand, Graze 1910, is opening their second location in South Tampa at 2217 South Dale Mabry Highway in the Palma Ceia neighborhood this February. This location will serve breakfast all day as well as lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.
Menu items will include egg dishes, artisan burgers, chicken and waffles, tartines, greens and grains, and vegan options.
“After two years of success with Graze 1910 at Armature Works, we decided it was time to extend the brand, expand the menu and attract more families and locals,” says Raymond Menendez, owner of Graze.
“Graze is community-minded and the spot you’ll come to time and time again not only for our reliably, quality food, but our laid-back setting and welcoming atmosphere.”
Raymond Menendez has 30 years of restaurant experience and was previously with Hooters in Clearwater and a Managing Partner with Ciccio Restaurant Group in Tampa.
Lawrence “Bubba” Durley, Graze 1910’s head chef, previously with Oxford Exchange and Café Dufrain, will oversee both Graze kitchen locations and continue to be their creative menu advisor.